Franz Nicolay

St. Sebastian Of The Short Stage

Written by: PP on 25/01/2010 15:36:05

The name Franz Nicolay is likely to ring a bell in many minds, and that's undoubtedly because of his (now ex-) involvement in The Hold Steady as the keyboardist in the band. Less likely, but still possible, is that you may know him from his other side project World/Inferno Friendship Society. This, however, is his namesake singer/songwriter solo project, through which he has already put out a full length record in 2008. "St. Sebastian Of The Short Stage" EP features just four songs, but it gives the listener a good idea what to expect from Mr Nicolay if you were to check out his other material.

There are two sides to the vinyl, the happy side and the depressing side, both consisting of two songs each. The record kicks off with a discussion between Franz and The Dresden Dolls about which state is better in the Northeast, which is funny the first time you hear it but after that it feels pointless, and actually kinda annoying because you have to sit through 40 seconds of it each time to get to the folksy harmonica and piano driven sing along ballad "New England". It's an upbeat cover of John Richman, where The Dresden Dolls help with some additional instrumentation, a very light-hearted version though complete with "dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-dey" humming leading up to a fitting "woo-hoo, New England" chorus. A setting of a 17th century play/musical comes to my mind each time I hear it.

The second happy song, "The Ballad Of Holls Wadsworth Mason Jr" (yes, the Watchmen character), utilizes accordion heavily, before lapsing into a lengthy trumpets section giving the song a progressive ska-vibe, which should bring RX Bandits to mind if you listen carefully enough. Then it's time to move onto the depressing side with "When The War Came", which is just Franz and his acoustic guitar relying on his melancholic, lonesome voice, telling sad stories with saddened melodies. Just like the other sad song, "I Just Want To Love", the track is soft, but somehow there's just so much more detail and small intricacies to make me like this side better, even though it's much slower and may seem bland at first. The happy side may be more upbeat, faster, and almost punk in a way even though the singer/songwriter theme is definitely lurking underneath, but Franz is definitely at his most interesting when he gets to really tell his stories without other people/instruments disrupting. The idea of the happy/sad contrast is good, but more songs are needed for it to fully blossom. At the same time, the happy songs are decent but not THAT interesting, so I'm leaving Franz with a decent grade but with the afterthought of "I bet the solo full length is really good".

Download: When The War Came
For the fans of: The Hold Steady, Chuck Ragan
Listen: Myspace

Release date 08.12.2009
Team Science Records

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