Many good albums lack engaging first listens. The best records often reveal themselves slowly, peeling back layer after layer and never giving away too much at once. And then there are some albums that hide themselves so carefully that the caution becomes part of the act, and only through dedicated listening will the slightest shimmer of something memorable emerge.
Passively waiting to be noticed, Holopaw’s second album, Quit +/or Fight, is like the kid who never raises his hand in class but whom everyone knows is the smartest in the room. Note the restraint on “Holiday” when the song falsely gestures as if it’s going to break into a celebration but instead falls back to its original theme. The music doesn’t parade itself with striking bombast, and the vocals do little more than ooze like water seeping into a sponge. Even when he’s singing like a woman on “Curious,” Holopaw vocalist John Orth (co-songwriter with Isaac Brock on Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth) relies on fading into the mix rather than projecting out from it.
Orth’s lyrical skill shines foremost on the album, and in particular on “Found (Quit +/or Fight),” a track the band originally put together for the voyeuristic magazine Found. In the spirit of the rag, which collects and publishes found items such as ticket stubs and grade-schoolers’ homework, the song’s lyrics were assembled from pieces of letters Orth discovered in a Florida library. Similarly, Quit +/or Fight was constructed from piecemeal correspondence between band members. (Although the group hails from Gainesville, Florida, none of the members were ever in the same place during the recording process.) This adds an even more removed element to an already distant record.
The only one moment that hits with immediacy on Quit +/or Fight is the twice-done melodic breakdown of “Little Shaver.” It sounds so out of place among the rest of the songs. But maybe that’s the point. The juxtaposition of near-but-not-quite abandon and comfortable confidence is what Holopaw is all about, and the knotted rope of intrigue, the hook that would snare return offenders, is left purposefully dangling from the dock in hopes that someone will care enough to swim against the current for the chance at another listen.