After seeing the promo picture for Brian Borcherdt’s latest release, it was easy to assume he replaced his stripped down, death obsessed intensity for washed out sounds and a softer focus. Dusted - a collaboration with Leon Taheny - may showcase blown out sounds forced through broken amps, but instead of sun-kissed warmth, you are hit with the trademark Borcherdt cold, defined lines of reality.
Borcherdt is no stranger to darker themes, but (as Stuart Berman pointed out), Total Dust isn’t a collection of songs fearing the inevitable and waiting for Death to place the noose around his neck, but rather a way for Borcherdt to try to accept whatever hand he’s ultimately dealt.
It’s also the most successful vehicle for Brian’s sharp pen and melodic ear to date.
Brian still works with minimal ingredients and Leon gives him the open space he requires, but there is depth to the songs. Even the most stripped down efforts are given surprising nuances and wrinkles. “Low Humming” is given a gentle wash of textures (the soft strings work perfectly), “Dusted” is refreshed by Taheny’s understated additions and “Pale Light” is pushed along by a subtle beat and more beautiful string work, but none of these songs are foreign to the library Borcherdt created under his various solo projects.
Total Dust really comes to life when Taheny’s presence is more vital to the final outcome. The duo syncs nicely as the arrangements become more complex. Leon has an un canny understanding of how to complete Brian’s thoughts without overpowering the meaning. “Property Lines” is the most spirited song on the record and the dark and the swirling textures added to the mix are captivating.
“Bruises” starts with little more than gentle strums, white noise and Borcherdt’s best couplet (“if there’s diamond in their eyes, I will rob them blind”), but slowly and confidently the duo add programming, cymbal washes and synths. Nothing is rushed; the end result is revealed like a time lapse film until your ears are saturated with intricate, essential notes.
On the surface, “Cut Them Free” is simple programming, tinny drums and blown out bass, but Brian cheekily hides a full fledged pop song behind his production. With a few tweaks, an artist like Diamond Rings could polish the mix of synths, tambourines and guitar and ignore Dusted’s restraint by supplementing a huge chorus to transform the song into an escape instead of a burning intense connection.
Thankfully, Dusted doesn’t take the easy route. Brian’s built a devout fan base thanks to the slow burn of his solo work and while he’s obviously better known for his “other” project, he deserves more credit for his blue collar solo work. The intensity he delivers each and every time out is what’s lacking from far too many artists in today’s scene and still defines this record. Total Dust is a quiet, painful reminder that death is waiting for us at every turn, Brian’s just offering us a new way to handle that all too final reality.