Quit +/- Fight
olopaw is a quick curl of hum in the ordinary strum-strum of country-pop. Though their self-titled debut was noted for its understated reliance on hazy synths and computer miswiring, it was nonetheless something that made sense in the cold country husk of the time. It whisked and it moaned in similar proportions, and ultimately, despite the bold circuitry behind their complex lyrical framing, it could be force-fed into a genre that was still gaining strength.
Now, alt-country seems a wishful appliance for critics and genre-fiends more than anything that held our mutual breath. Holopaw’s certainly left it well-behind. With their second record, Quit +/- Fight, there’s a milkiness to their grainy country anthems now. Unlike label-mates Fruit Bats, who succumbed to the limitations of rote seventies-adoration on their latest record, Holopaw understands expansion. Nothing’s quite as crisp now, and instead of all of their muted corn-nibblet lay-aways, guitars succumb to painted swaths of synths and keyboard cemetery. Slow, gas-sputtered epics emerge out of sinewy acoustic fire-oaths, and the cruel toe-splat of all that summer joy becomes anthems to the collection of field and grain. Oh, how you could swim in the abortive void of the scarecrow, dances crisp and stupid and wishful, if you fall under lead-singer John Orth’s mellow falsetto.
“3-Shy-Cubs” is an epic barn-crasher of twitching synths and faux handclaps, cavorting around the simple highway wind-breaks of the season. Just as the song seems to fall into its own still rut, Orth cracks them into a break-nailed jam that borrows as much from the Grateful Dead as it does from pick-an-indie-fave. It’s the first indication of just how much Orth and the band have grown.
“Holiday” jumps drunk into a woozy millennial swim. As Orth moans around twinkled synths and stable drum lines, Mike Pecchio’s surreal production touches come to the fore. Orth’s line about “swallow too much of the ocean” sheds light on the track’s bends-sickness. I hear John Carpenter’s Fog smoked into sound, a ship of gristly nons and nothings suffused through the Pacific glow and come to land and radio-piratry. There’s nothing sea-worthy to this one; it’s a rusty, tin-pan-alley sinker more fit for collegiate hoboism than major—label idolatry. Like much of the record, the track’s most interesting touches—its stable-ride guitar lines and hummingbird electronic flutters—show up only on headphones.
Likewise, “Ghosties” is one of the record’s most sublime advances. Starting with a moaned gasp of Cathedral choirs, synths and a thunder front of drums, the band backs away to give Orth as much space as he needs. The lead guitar builds a bitter-squall of tension, and the band swells into its most exquisite moment of expansion. Holopaw coalesces full-frontal into a gorgeous Ravel-worthy spoil, a break-wave of silent cacophony and phony symphony. Somewhere herein, you can hear the moon swallow its own tongue.
Yet, prior Holopaw fans might be dismayed by what they hear. I hate to keep turning back to their labelmates, the Fruit Bats, but the friendship between the two bands and their shared home at Sub Pop leads to the comparison. Where the Bats stayed true to formula and assembled a follow-up that catches the ear from word-one, they also forgot to leave you much to hold to in the future. Holopaw, despite a slight mid-album lull from “Velveteen (All is Light)” through “Needle in the Sway,” have foamed their soapy visions into a work far more potent and lasting than their debut. Odds are you won’t hear it from the first press-play, but trust me, by the third time around, Holopaw’s strange daze will have you sunblind in the slight hours of night.