Dusted – Total Dust
Total Dust is the debut full-length from a side project of Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt and producer Leon Taheny. It’s a substantial departure from the former’s day job, being an alternately pretty and gritty electric folk record, forged in a dense and weathered recording style.
The reverb on the vocals and synths is the ethereal attribute that’s dragged out of the sky and pushed into the dirt by the dense, dry guitar tone that takes the lead throughout most of the record. Opener ‘All Comes Down’ begins with lumbering, Neil Young-esque strumming and Borcherdt’s delicate near-falsetto. A second guitar adds a listless drone as the “When will it all come down” hook is repeated. His self-consciously thin delivery almost has an Elliott Smith quality and it’s difficult to narrow down the exact nature of the emptiness it evokes.
The busy folk guitar returns on ‘(Into the) Atmosphere’ alongside a festive-sounding dream pop chorus that suggests a really rubbish Christmas (it’s not about Christmas). Come to think of it, there’s not a lot to get excited about on Total Dust. Even its rockiest moments, ‘Property Lines’ for example, have a dragged-through-the-gravel hopelessness about them. Poker-faced while staring into the eyes of death is the kind of optimism that Borcherdt brings to this project.
It reaches a desolate peak on ‘Low Humming’ with its quivering vocal and deceptively ornate arrangement as piano and strings subtly introduce themselves. It’s in the arrangements in fact that Dusted bears the greatest resemblance to Holy Fuck. Not in what they are or the ends they serve, but in their purpose as a strong supporting cast. The extra instrumentation doesn’t stumble obnoxiously into the frame, preferring to complement the core melodies even when it does end up overpoweringly loud. It reveals Total Dust as a more elaborate record than its shabby exterior first suggests; the warm post-punk keyboard on ‘Bruises’ ultimately defines the song in its closing breath.
A mean-spirited innocence lingers in lyrics like “If there’s diamonds in their eyes / Then I will rob them blind” (‘Bruises’), but it’s the simple melodic phrases that carry all the misery. There’s a lot of prettiness in the dirt like the eyes you still recognise in the battered face of a friend, unseen for years, who just fell through the door.
And it’s all over in no time at all. Despite this interpretation leaning on the outcast, existential gloom that Total Dust offers it doesn’t follow the same sprawling labyrinth of waste that you might find on some Simon Joyner or Red House Painters albums. The space in the recording feel huge and engulfed by a sandstorm of reverb and loose noise, but Borcherdt always leaves enough in the way of melody to light the passage through.
There’s a lot to extract from Dusted’s music and it never feels mopey or maudlin – its warmth makes itself known with closer inspection. Borcherdt and Taheny have come up with an album that’s somehow approachable even when it feels like a meditation on dirt and rust by a man that’s spent a month wandering around a wasteland.