I can remember twice when I experienced snow in Florida. The first time feels hazy—I recall stuffing my sparkly bangled arms into thick, magenta coat sleeves for the occasion but not much else. The second remains crystal: I stood outside a Tallahassee liquor store the day after Christmas two years ago. A Miami native and FLA-all-day gal, my mom looked around puzzled, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire fisted. “Ash?” she asked me. “Weird to be doing a controlled burn in the winter.”
Gainesville, Fla. outfit Holopaw must treat winter frost and tundra adventures with a trusting fascination. Like how I’m pretty sure Australia is rad, but I have only come as close as Yellowtail. The folk-rock group’s unevenly epic Academy Songs Vol. 1 greatly features the frozen precipitation.
The possibility of snow in Florida didn’t even cross Mom’s mind. The concept doesn’t immediately ring relatable or even familiar. It’s foreign. And let’s face it, often foreign is sexy.
Holopaw employs romance in a similar way. Academy is a concept album, following adolescents in an all-boys prep school—in the dead of winter. (Florida doesn’t have those… I don’t think—all-boys prep school or “winter.”) The band recorded the unlikely brumal release entirely at a joint in St. Augustine Beach, Fla., to boot.
Many tracks of Academy emerged beautifully from all the dunes’ wiregrass. However, parts promise a sea of fireworks, instead eventually arriving with a handful of poppers. Two early tracks make a lot of promises for the rest of the album. “Academy” sparks with John Orth’s cherub vocals as flint. Tiny embers glow quietly through the demure, hotly narrative “Bedfellows Farewell.”
But the flow doesn’t remain consistent—all of that wet snow softly quieting the heat at times. “Diamonds” summons a hiccup, coming off almost like a parody of the nostalgia Academy tries so hard to maintain. Surely the band included “Chapperelles Interlude” in an effort to set the very deliberate, scholastic stage. Neither particularly work.
However, the album still absolutely boasts a few hearty singles. “Golden Sparklers,” “We Are The Virgin Snow” and “Golden Years” chug along the navy blazer plot in a natural way. Those three especially prove the honest twang I’ve always loved about Holopaw.
Academy is an ambitious album. Unfortunately, it lacks in the final burst of tenacity needed to alleviate the aural blue balls it conjures. Tackling a concept album is risky. Although I feel Holopaw deserves applause for taking that initial risk, it sounds like they held back. Orth is a skilled wordsmith, so the lackluster variety in his vocabulary stumps me. Sometimes the bald repetition of key concepts like snow (specifically the pure kind), dance clubs and swallow breathing make me, as a listener, feel dumb. If only he had a little more faith in the intelligence of his audience, it might make for a more daring and therefore, more satisfying listen.
Perhaps it’s time the band spends some time in Vermont this month and froth unrestrained lyrics until the frost melts. Or maybe they ought to investigate another exotically attractive concept—corn fields?
Ed. note: This review originally incorrectly stated the order of certain tracks. The rating and text of the review have been edited to reflect subsequent listens to the tracks in their intended order.