Hermit's Victory, the nom de plume of singer/songwriter Tyler Bertges, is actually a fairly accurate moniker.
Although the Fort Mill native fronted the band Through Porchlight in high school, he spent his collegiate and post-collegiate years in Charleston fairly reclusively, venturing out only occasionally to play solo shows. But Bertges recorded and wrote at home with his roommate, Brave Baby drummer and producer/recording engineer wizard Ryan Wolfgang Zimmerman.
"He and I recorded for the first time when I was in high school," Bertges recalls. "I've been recording music since I was like in the sixth grade, but this is my first legitimate release.
"I still don't feel that comfortable in the limelight," he says. "Some people flourish under that kind of pressure, I guess."
Hermit's Victory's self-titled effort was officially released on April 7 by local indie label Hearts & Plugs. Bertges got hooked up with H&P thanks to friends like SUSTO's Justin Osborne, whose high school band Sequoyah Prep School frequently played with Through Porchlight, as well as Zimmerman and Brave Baby frontman Keon Masters. Both SUSTO and Brave Baby were already on the label's roster, and it was a quick and painless process to convince label head Dan McCurry to take on the project.
Despite the sudden liveliness, though, Hermit's Victory still feels very much like a project grounded in the interior of Bertges' head. There's a cozy, bedroom quality that pervades these tunes even as the songwriter's friends flesh them out with lots of ethereal synths and slinky percussion. Many tunes, like the plaintive, dusty folk ballad "Mooch" and the woozy pop of "Islands," directly evoke a strong sense of social anxiety as the speaker looks wistfully through a window to the world outside. "Novice," the song from which the band name originated, offers up what feels like a thesis —"crawling out of the hole/ is the hermit's victory." Bertges sings with the husky, knowing warble of M. Ward in some places, the laconic shyness of Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan in others, but rarely falters in his crooning sense of intimacy even as the songs themselves speak of separation.
Perhaps even more telling is the inscrutable reverb and fleeting musical asides that dominate these arrangements, suggesting both the careful and layered attention to the production of these songs as well as a desire to convey indeterminacy and indecision.
"In my opinion, the best 'art' is rooted in uneasiness," Bertges admits. "There is certaintly a theme of anxiety that strings a lot of the tunes together."
For many of these songs, which were mostly written over the course of the last two years, the process began as a solitary one, with Bertges recording parts alone using Garage Band and only later bringing them to Zimmerman or Jenna Desmond, who plays keyboards and sings on much of the record.
"A theme throughout is the random interjecting noises and musical stylings that sort of float in and out," explains Bertges. "They aren't part of the overall approach, but they sort of just pop up every now and then. Those parts kind of define Hermit's Victory recordings."
"For instance, I'd be recording with Jenna, and if she did a take she didn't like, I would just tuck it back and use it later somehow," he continues. "I think the moments of brilliance in music in general are maybe things you didn't mean to do or weren't expecting."
Such moments crop up on the slightly off-kilter ballad "Palm Conversions," which features Desmond and Bertges singing slightly out of sync with each other as treated textures fade in and out, or the twinkling, uncertain keyboards that creep into the midsection of "Mikey Wall St.," a tune which otherwise rides a walking bassline and leans on its chillwave-meets-Bowie chorus.
That chorus is also a great example of how surprisingly catchy and accessible much of Hermit's Victory's material is. Opener "Night Owl" and the aforementioned "Novice" can, for all of their ennui, come across as dejected, more knowing counterparts to the worst of Wayne Coyne's dippy, indelibly catchy psychedelia.
"It's a war between the eternal furnace and a nagging sense of impermanence" sings Bertges on the latter song, crafting hooks from the wreckage of his reserve. Even on the second verse of "Mooch," which he admits is perhaps the most anxiety-ridden moment on the record ("My canine is jumpy as well/ These city streets are this bright-lit hell"), the music still has a certain effervescence.
And in some ways, the record's very creation seems to be moving Bertges away from the mindset that he writes about. He's been playing and booking more shows recently, including today's show with Grace Joyner that celebrates the album's release and marks the end of the Hearts & Plugs residency at Redux Contemporary Art Center.
But as to whether a stronger live presence would translate into a different process or sound for him, Bertges remains, characteristically, unsure.
"I'd be open to just try and change up styles in the future," he says, "but the joy of making music for me is obsessing over little things or trying to make pieces fit where they kind of shouldn't be."