Academy Songs, Vol. 1, the latest from the long-running Gainesville, Florida-based outfit Holopaw, is set at a prep school, the sort of halcyon place you might recognize from any number of coming-of-age films. Luckily, the album evokes all the yearning, emotional tumult and poetry one would expect from a young man who has left home to become an adult. The six-piece band’s earthy, shape-shifting sound recalls the melodrama of Shearwater, but the album’s real attractions are John Orth’s lyrics and delivery. He has written 10 songs with the detailed scene-setting and novelistic phrasing of Sufjan Stevens’s Michigan and Illinois, and he sings them with practiced delicacy.
There’s plenty of drama on Academy, but little angst. Orth’s narrator begins and ends the album by professing his love for his time at the Academy, and he renders small moments with the dewy specificity of an Instagram snapshot, cataloguing “the low hum of Crown Victoria…growling just beyond these ivied walls” or admiring a Roman candle arcing over a lake at night. Reflecting on the pressures and rewards unique to growing up in such a setting, Orth sighs, “this might make diamonds of other men.” The sentiment might feel more a product of the 19th century than the 21st, but Academy highlights the many old-fashioned merits of being true to your school.