The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Rockin' Our Turntable: Lamar Holley

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 14, 2009 5:40PM

2009_9_13lamarholley.jpg Classes are back in session, which gives us the perfect reason to tell you about Lamar Holley's newest album. Confessions of a College Student is an "autobiographical one-man pop-musical" according to its album cover. If Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman had ever reteamed for a followup to their 1970 masterpiece, and made a concept album about higher education, it might have sounded something like Holley's record. It has Newman's love of ragtime and bittersweet melody, and intertwined vocal arrangements like Nilsson.

After a tiny "Overture" comes "Biology," perfectly capturing the atmosphere of a giant lecture hall as you suffer through a core requirement course. You're sitting there bored when suddenly across the room you see a certain girl, and your science class takes on a whole new meaning: "Her body is beautiful biology/but there's no chemistry in this experiment./I'm waiting to see if she'll be nice to me, but she won't." The wistful lyrics are brought to life with multitracked vocals, Beatlesque guitars (and sitar!), violin, and harmonica. It's a formula that could easily turn cloying, but there's a sincerity that instantly banishes any cynicism with well-trained blasts of melodic sunshine.

The songs cycle through every stage of love, from that first glance to infatuation ("Secretly"), dating ("Flower"), uncertainty ("Slow Dance"), impatience ("Madame Shamrock"), breakup ("Lovesick") and disillusionment ("Pretend That She's Ugly") with irresistible sweetness. "This Is True" is typical of the album's charms: the lead vocal plays a game of tag with an earworm piano riff, a barbershop quartet, and a clarinet that wandered in from a Benny Goodman cut like "Bei Mir Bist du Schön." There are also a few numbers about the drifting apart from childhood friends that comes with going off to college. "I remember randomly--/like a flash of memory--/different faces/I let disappear/along with places" he sings in "Forgotten Friends," and we daresay it gave us a lump in the throat the first time we heard it.

Holley went to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder and now lives in Utah, where he's a sixth-grade schoolteacher. It's hard to say whether he could be persuaded to tour behind the album but one of its tracks has already earned a spot on iTune's Absolute Powerpop's Best of 2009 mix. Give a listen to "Madame Shamrock" below, or go to Holley's website to hear more. There's no catchier way to live through collegiate confusion and love limbo than Holley's hummable songs.

Madame Shamrock - Lamar Holley