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Holopaw fights the good fight

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 1, 2005
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Say what you will about Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock, but the guy has an ear for music. "Wait," you're saying. Isn't this supposed to be a review of Holopaw's new album, Quit +/or Fight? Yes, but we're getting there. Anyway, Brock corralled some mighty fine artists (The Shins, Iron and Wine and Holopaw) for Subpop Records during the label's early-2000 boom.

Until recently, Holopaw seemed destined to be the overlooked band from that illustrious list. After all, the other two had at least two albums to their credit, not to mention mainstream endorsements galore ("Garden State" and M&M's, to name a few). In contrast, Holopaw was that band fronted by the guy (John Orth) who sang on and co-wrote Ugly Casanova's Sharpen Your Teeth with Brock.

Listen to it
8 out of 10
Quit +/or Fight
Subpop Records

OK, we finally got there. For those who missed it, Holopaw's self-titled debut was a gorgeous slice of rueful country and Americana. And with Quit +/or Fight they return with another bountiful helping of delicately arranged and wistfully executed songs.

Things begin innocuously enough with "Losing Light," a genteel song featuring lightly picked guitar and Orth's unique and hushed vocals hovering over the mix. Initially, the song seems too simplistic. Then, the drums channel a tribal beat as some nice swirling atmospherics kick in. This song highlights exactly what is special about Holopaw's music. Somehow they manage to channel the warmth and familiarity of alt-country with the eerie ambience of shoegazing electronics linked to bands like My Bloody Valentine.

Excellent examples of this distinct union appear throughout the album. "Curious" is a lilting ballad full of guitar arpeggios, falsetto vocals and squeaky keyboard chirps that manage to create shivers as only Holopaw is able to do. Elsewhere, "3-Shy-Cubs" is a nice, soothing piece of raw percussion, piano reverb, handclaps and wavering vocals. As good as the song is with all of these elements working together, Holopaw showcases its music as ever evolving when the song shifts into a more upbeat jamboree tune halfway through. The result is thrilling.

Like their debut, Quit +/or Fight highlights the vocal talents of Orth. He is truly an original with a voice that can convincingly vibrate, tremble and boom without ever losing pitch. Orth's lyrics are also fantastic as he filters the songs through his menacing and cryptic take on classic Americana. Take the bent Christmas song "Velveteen (All is Bright.)" where Orth moans over rising acoustics: "All is calm/All is bright/And they're dragging the lake/With peppermint hooks." The imagery is remarkably unsettling because it lacks explicit exposition.

The only times Quit +/or Fight runs into trouble are when it meanders too much, which proves that too much of a good thing really is a bad thing. As the album continues, some of the later songs bleed into the mix. Although songs like "Clearing" sound pleasant enough, they lack the intensity and layers that make other Holopaw songs repeatable.

For the most part, Quit +/or Fight is an album with enormous replay value. Most of the songs are so calming that they can often induce a relaxing, daydream state no matter where you listen to them (recommended for long lines at the DMV). Who knows, next year Holopaw may be the band soundtracking Natalie Portman's cinematic love life.

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