Borracho – Oculus (digital version self-released 18 July 2013 | vinyl edition released December 2013 on No Balls Records (Germany) / Strange Magic Records (US) / AM Records (Japan))
Hey there, readers. There’s been a bunch of great music released this week, and I can’t wait to share it with you! I’ll get to that very soon. First, there’s something else I’ve been meaning to tell you all about for months and I really don’t want to let it wait any longer. Those of you who’ve been around here a while will surely remember Borracho: I’ve been way into this band ever since I stumbled upon Splitting Sky, their debut album, back in 2011, which immediately found its way onto my list of the best releases of that year. For those who haven’t been paying attention, it doesn’t take much research to find that I’ve written about them or mentioned them quite a few times since then. Just something about those heavy-as-balls riffs and mind-bending instrumental passages really grabs my attention and refuses to let go.
So anyway, naturally, after a series of vinyl reissues and 7″ singles and 10″ singles, the news that these guys were releasing a second album of brand-new material would be very exciting to me. Combined with the fact that the band swung by my city for the first time ever — and the second time ever — all within the past year, yeah I’d say I was pretty thrilled. That new album — Oculus — was unleased (online) on the same day as Borracho‘s second Pittsburgh show of the year, which was mid-July 2013, and so I’ve been listening to it ever since then (and, as you may recall, history repeated itself as it was also included on my list of last year’s best albums). I did start writing about it around the time it was released, intending to publish this review before I went to the show that night, but something came up — I think work was especially busy that week or something. Then for most of the rest of the year I was frozen in Carbonite. I dunno, I have no excuses, really. But that’s why, like I said, I want to bring this album to your attention as soon as possible.
So early last year, I learned that Borracho and Pittsburgh’s own Supervoid would be doing a brief weekend tour together, including dates in each band’s hometown, while also being joined by the sadly-now-defunct Been Obscene who had come all the way from Austria. With the addition of Dayton, Ohio’s Neon Warship for one night only, the Pittsburgh show (at Howler’s Coyote Cafe on the 29th of March) turned out to be one of the best I would see all year — with very strong performances by four amazing bands, three of which I was seeing for the first time.
But just a short time prior to this series of dates, it was revealed that Borracho‘s vocalist Noah (who had appeared on all of their recordings to date) would be taking an indefinite hiatus from the band, as he would be spending an extended period abroad for business purposes. Faced with the prospect of continuing on as a three-piece, it’s my understanding that the first show they did after this was purely an instrumental affair. Soon after, guitarist Steve Fisher had taken on the vocal responsibilities himself, a task he was handling quite capably by the time they came to town. As I recall, their set consisted of a number of songs from Splitting Sky plus some new material — including a song called “Stockpile” which I happened to capture on video.
Apparently the stripped-down line-up was working out fine for the band, because they never made an attempt (as far as I’m aware) to recruit any new members, and the three of them (Fisher, bassist Tim Martin, and drummer Mario Trubiano quickly got into recording. Within just a few months, Oculus was announced, in addition to another short run of tourdates with Supervoid and Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan. Another band that has since ceased to exist, Sistered also appeared on the Pittsburgh stop of this mini-tour, which as I mentioned before fell on the 18th of July, the same day Borracho‘s new album was officially released.
This second time around, separated by just a few months, the band’s newly annointed vocalist seemed much more at home with his new role, seeming to exude a great deal more confidence. For the sake of comparison, I just happen to coincidentally have a video of the same song, “Stockpile”, from this show.
I don’t know precisely when the five tracks of the full-length Oculus were recorded, but one would presume it happened somewhere between March and July of last year. Predictably, given the shuffling of its personnel, it has a markedly different sound from its predecessor, while staying rooted in the same basic ballpark. Resultantly, the album reflects a band in a state of transition and metamorphosis, perhaps sometimes a bit hesitant or unsure of its new direction but finding that it ultimately is growing into its new shape rather successfully.
Opening track “Empty” starts out with a dark and moody instrumental introduction featuring multiple layers of guitars and other atmospheric elements. Right off the bat we are offered a deeper and more diverse sound, even though the band had just decreased in size. This builds very slowly, going through various twists before eventually settling into a more stoner-rock-style riff almost five minutes in. As though the album itself is mimicking the short history thus far of this line-up of the band, only then do the vocals finally enter.
At first the singing seems a bit restrained, especially compared with the commanding presence the vocals tended to have in their earlier material. But again, the confidence level feels like it keeps growing — by the end of the southern-rock-tinged “Know the Score,” and also toward the latter part of the Gargantuan centerpiece “Stockpile,” the guitarist-turned-vocalist seems to really start belting it out. The last track “I’ve Come for it All,” I think, feels a little more like old Borracho than the other songs here, while at the same time seems to also display the new singer really coming into his own.
Over the course of these 35 minutes (all four songs are over seven minutes long, with the two-minute track “Eye” as the lone exception, although this brief instrumental piece serves more as a segue between “Stockpile” and “I’ve Come for it All”), it’s clear to see that this band is on a mission to continue growing and expanding — regardless of whether its membership should happen to shrink. The material here also demonstrates that this is a band you’ll want to continue to keep an eye on, because clearly they’re fully capable of adapting to whatever is thrown their way while coming out stronger in the end.
Here’s the official Oculus album trailer video (which contains portions of both “Eye” and “I’ve Come for It All”):
The album can be streamed or downloaded at Bandcamp (here), where you can also order the vinyl LP and various other merch. The 12″ vinyl has been pressed in transparent yellow, purple, or blue/green, and your purchase would include an immediate download. And for those who may be interested, there are two cool bundles available as well: one which includes the LP plus a Borracho t-shirt, and one which includes a copy of Oculus and each of the other vinyl releases the band has had in the past year!
And FINALLY, one last piece of information I’d like to share: Borracho has just been confirmed to be making their first-ever appearance in the UK — which will take place at this year’s DesertFest in April. Find more details on this announcement right here.