Holy Oak – Better Lions

A hot Toronto night after a long day of rain: 1 am and The Central is hollowing out, drunk patrons taking cigarettes into the rising petrichor of the night. I am in a haze of dark beer, holding one more, my raincoat sticking to my arms. What a place to first hear this band, lit up at the end of a long room.

There is a mournfulness to Neil Holyoak’s delivery that is introspective but not brooding, addresses with head and eyes held high: especially when buttressed by the country swells of “Starlet.” How can that wavering voice confront the convolutions of love with such courage?

The steadiness of Holyoak’s words is born from a weighty and considered lyricism, plays the foil to the quiver in his voice. He brings an academic rigor to his writing, drawing influence from a variety of sources: Townes Van Zandt, French symbolist poetry, Malian blues — there is a depth to these songs that draws you in, encourages contemplation. It was spitting rain again when I left The Central, humming that shuffling “Starlet” line.

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