Quit +/or Fight

(Sub Pop; 2005)

By David Greenwald | 3 October 2005

(Disclaimer: This review contains a half-serious but 100% official Cokemachineglow Pretentious, All-Encompassing Statement Regarding the Modern State of Rock Music With Lots of Flowery Adjectives. But don’t worry, we’ll let you know before we get there.)

Half the fun of keeping up with really boring modern music (really boring modern girl?) is watching bands grow and develop --- or, alternatively, collapse into excess, mediocrity, and self-parody. 2005 seems to be an excellent year for the former, with artists like Andrew Bird and The National releasing breakthrough albums. Joining the parade of satisfying follow-ups is Holopaw’s Quit +/Or Fight, one among several Sub Pop groups discovered by better-A&R-man-than-he-is-a-lead-singer Isaac Brock (remember The Shins?). The band had little room for improvement; their self-titled 2003 debut was an engrossing work of sparse, space-age folk.

Quit +/Or Fight keeps it simple, instrumentally. Rarely is an instrument present beyond bass, drums, a backing vocal or two, and a mix of acoustic and electric guitars. Well, at least until the second track makes a successful attempt at Of Montreal disco-folk. Much of the album’s appeal lies in its timbre: fluttering, forlorn singing and undistorted electric guitars with plenty of warm low end.

The battle against the inevitable is a frequent motif of the album, from the title lyric (“You have done enough, quit and/or fight”) to the first few lines of “Losing Light,” which describe a photographer trying to capture a moment before sunset renders it impossible. Holopaw stays on the positive side, in itself a triumph for music that usually lends itself to, as Sufjan Stevens so eloquently put it, “crying in the bathroom.” That being said, it would wise to mention that this is the sort of album that falls well within my personal bias index. Pensive, almost poetic lyrics, tasteful but plentiful atmospherics and noodling instrumentation, overdubbed harmonies, dynamic shifts in tempo and volume, all over the familiar bed of the folk genre… this is profoundly affecting music.

(As promised:)

Holopaw are a harbinger of the future of indie rock, the latest in the burgeoning wave of a new generation of folk musicians raised as much on Radiohead and Mogwai as Joni, Nick, Neil and Bob. Atmospholk includes, but does not begin or end with, The One AM Radio, the now-defunct Sea Snakes, and, to a lesser extent, New Buffalo. It’s only a matter of time until such groups are making the cover of Paste while Spin lists the top 10 atmospholk albums, because such radiant innovation refuses to be usurped by the overshadowing tower of mediocrity that lays its heavy hands on the backs of the creators that slowly but surely push music beyond the realm of mere enjoyment and into transcendent, life-affirming glory.

(Ok, but seriously...)

Quit +/Or Fight is in a select catalog of records able to build songs out of studio arrangements that never seem contrived or overdone. It’s a wash of notes and sound as well or even better constructed than the songs it envelops, with nary a dull moment. Andrew Bird’s The Mysterious Production Of Eggs is the same way, and it’s refreshing to see bands evolve and mature. “My shit smells the same as everyone else’s,” sings Orth in the title track, and he’s probably right; it’s his songs which are sounding a whole lot better.