For this issue, we have the absolute pleasure of introducing you to a fresh folkpunk outfit out of Fitchburg, Massachusetts called Holy Fool. Founded by singer/songwriter Sean Clark, their debut album American Dreams was just released on November 25th, 2022. Do not be mistaken, this project is not just another folkpunk singer/songwriter doing their best Pat the Bunny impression. Holy Fool would rather go to the source, and draws inspiration from outside of our corner of the musical landscape to include a variety of influences. For instance, elements of surf rock shine through on tracks like Protect and Surf, and roots in traditional folk, rockabilly and blues are well established in tracks Ameri-can Dream and Hard Times in (Hardwick). Clark’s lyrics are also a step above, relating intense life experiences in an honest manner that is very folkpunk at heart. Holy Fool takes elements of different genres and artfully melds them together to create something that’s personal, unique, and breathes a breath of fresh air into the genre.
First and foremost, I would like to point out that Holy Fool embodies the DIY ethos of our ideology. This album is almost entirely self-produced. Anyone who has produced an album themselves knows how hard the struggle is to manifest that concept into a reality. Especially in our genre, you often are forced to work with what you’re given. For instance, the vocals on American Dreams were recorded with an acoustic guitar in a bathroom with peculiarly good acoustics. Holy Fool appears to take it all in stride however, and produced a record that accomplishes what it sets it sets out to do, and even surpasses expectations. Clark wrote the lyrics, the melodies and the chord progressions as well as performed the instrumentation. A studio engineer assisted with the drums and bass, and the songs were mixed in a studio by Clark.
The songs on this record are as diverse as the genres Holy Fool takes influence from, and the musical roots of each of these songs are readily identifiable, and expertly woven together to create a vibrant tapestry of music. The album starts off with Once Upon an End-Time, a singer/guitar combination that we’re all familiar with, but this one hits different. I love the intensity of the vocals juxtaposed with the muted guitar, it is very minimalist and powerful as a result. The lyrics, guitar, and especially vocals are very reminiscent of an unplugged Arctic Monkeys, particularly when Clark puts emphasize on their words and sings louder. It sounds a lot cleaner than your typical punk-with-an-acoustic with the exception of when the vocals hit their climaxes, but honestly that really adds to the authenticity for me.
Hard times in (Hardwick) was not one that Clark told me to look out for, but one that jumped out at me anyway. This song brings Holy Fool’s influence to the forefront with a very personal, rockabilly inspired blues rock ballad of trying to get your shit together that’s incredibly relatable. It heavily reminded me of Mike Ness of Social Distortion with some outlaw country vibes thrown in to round things out. The third track, In the Wreckage, slows things down with a solid folk track with a simple chord progression and some nice guitar licks, but again you’ll find the heart and soul of this song in the honest, heartfelt lyrics.
Mannequin Boy might be the most folkpunk track on the record with a very catchy melody that drives the song forward. Clever lyrics are always something that I look out for, and so far Clark does not disappoint. Protect and Surf however, might be my favorite track on the album. It reminds me a lot of what punk was like in the early days, when we were just beginning to establish ourselves with our own sound and experimenting with our musical identity. It’s an excellent blend of garage, surf, and early punk styles into a sound that fits well within the realm of the greater punk scene.
The sixth track, Hand-Me-Down Madness is a sweet, melancholy melody that’s oddly nostalgic. It tells a sad story, but Clark so far has excelled at telling those stories in a way that demands the listener’s attention, and draws on their emotions. It’s that honesty that we love so much in folk punk, the way in which the lyrics hit the listener, and this song accomplishes that well. Leave Me to Me is a finger-picked ballad of inner strength that I liked quite a lot. Swapping Out My Heartaches immediately afterwards was a solid choice of track positions I think, the melody is uplifting and very fun to listen to. I would suggest that this was probably the most ambitious track off the record in terms of challenging Clark’s range of vocals, and he pulls through wonderfully.
I Found an Island continues the trend of presenting the folkier side of Holy Fool. Clark does a great job of establishing themself as an adept finger-picker here, the ear is drawn back and forth between the lyrics and melodies of the rising and falling picking pattern. Start That Little Light brings out some outlaw country inspired guitar licks on an electric that bring slow dancing in a smoky bar to mind. Perhaps it’s my own paradigm, but I absolutely loved the unabashedly anti-establishment sentiments of Ameri-can Dream. It gave me some Woody Guthrie or Billy Bragg vibes in terms of an angry folk artist singing true to power. This Land Was Your Land, the last track on the album, is a delightful parody that does a lot of the same thing, but does so in such a clever way that I will definitely be coming back to give this one for additional listens.
As I listened back over these tracks a second and third time, I realized that I was continuing to discover lyrics I had previously missed, and that I was learning more about the artist the more I listened. Holy Fool clearly put a lot of work, thought, and no small amount of love into these tracks and it shows. Clark has certainly succeeded in creating an album that debuts their talents as a folkpunk artist to keep an eye on. This record gives me the impression of someone stretching out their muscles, only just warming up. Because this record indicates to me that this person has something to say, and that it’s worth listening to. I sincerely look forward to whatever it is that Holy Fool comes out with in the wake of a solid first album that establishes this project well within the sphere of their musical influences, as well as within folkpunk.