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Artist: Dusted

Album: Total Dust

Label: Hand of Dracula

Review date: Jul. 9, 2012

Dusted’s haunted, fuzz-encrusted songs fall about as far as possible from Brian Borcherdt’s other project, Holy Fuck. Where Holy Fuck cranks intricate, interlocking grooves, Dusted nearly eliminates rhythm altogether. Where Holy Fuck is collaborative, communal, celebratory, Dusted has the hollowed out aura of deep introspection. Borcherdt is not alone in this project — the main difference between Total Dust and a previous solo EP called Coyotes is that he is working with producer Leon Taheny — but he sounds like a guy working things out on his own. His songs have a blistered, wasted beauty, like Neil Young but maybe even more like Scout Niblett, as fragile melodies are subsumed in a detuned roar of guitar.

Borcherdt wrote the songs for Total Dust while still on the road with Holy Fuck, recorded them minimally in multiple locations (one an unheated studio in Nova Scotia) using the most basic, and often damaged, equipment. The guitar sound, which is both ghostly and extremely rough, comes through an amp with partially broken tubes. The vocals are filtered through a portable amp that broke down during recording. Terse bits of rhythm — choked cymbals, tambourine and kick drum — punctuate rather than frame or structure the songs. Drum machines stand in much of the time for actual kit sounds, while a synth bass adds frayed rumbles of low-end. There are little surges and swoops of strings, used not for ease but for additional tension. The sound is often shrouded, shadowy and indistinct, yet far from interfering with the songs, this layer of grit and murk seems to make them more powerful.

Consider, for instance, the opening song “All Comes Down,” its guitar notes pitched so low and distorted so heavily that they seem to splinter and dissolve in your ears. Borcherdt sings as if from a cave, his voice clear but distant. He repeats a single line “When will it all come down?” in a resigned tone, over and over again. The song is exhausted, broken, yet it pulses with a gritty life. Clean it up and it might sound silly, but here, in its grimy, half-obliterated state, there’s a beautiful beaten-down strength in it. “Low Humming,” later in the album, is the spectral form of a folk song, rising out of the simplest forms of guitar picking, vocals loosely massed in unison and wreathed with mist and overtones. “Pale Light,” near the end, is pitched somewhere between Neil Young, Cat Power and Nirvana, its guitar faint and ravaged, dampened down to quietness but not entirely extinguished. “Property Lines” sounds like mid-1990s Silkworm in its flickering, occasionally flaring guitar chug, though overlaid with a ghostly, echo-swaddled falsetto chant. There is even a pop song, “Cut Them Free,” swathed in threat and distortion, but nonetheless breaking out into melodic exuberance.

Lo-fi side projects are thick on the ground. Lots of artists use distortion and muddle to lend gravitas to sub par material. Yet Total Dust is one instance where stripping down to essentials, where dissolving sound into an elemental soup of buzz, echo, hum and melody works very well. Brian Borcherdt has made rough, beautiful songs out of broken bits of things, haunting atmospheres from the gritty transience of dust, and that’s something worth doing.

By Jennifer Kelly

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