The Hold Steady

Thrashing Thru The Passion

Written by: PP on 06/02/2021 01:22:30

You might wonder why we go back two years in this album review, but the answer is simple: some bands have records that are just too important to skip, especially when they're about to unleash a new one on us. The truth is, if you were a fan of The Hold Steady on their 10/10, genre-defining 2008 masterpiece "Stay Positive", you've since then felt like something isn't right in their sound, despite the brilliant-in-its-own-right, albeit complex "Heaven Is Whenever", and the alternative rock-fueled "Teeth Dreams". That missing piece has been keyboardist Franz Nicolay, whose subtle, yet incredibly nuanced piano/organ/keyboard contribution was a bigger piece of the band's soundscape than anyone anticipated until he departed the band shortly after "Stay Positive".

Perhaps that is why "Thrashing Thru The Passion" feels like a glorious return to form for The Hold Steady. They sound looser and rowdier, less like a rock band, and more like a platform for Craig Finn's unique lyrical universe to flourish amidst a perfectly constructed soundscape that fits like a glove around his rambling poetic narration style. Franz Nicolay's masterful keyboards in particular help paint vivid landscapes around Finn's brilliant dispatch of chronicles with tasteful percussion and quality guitar licks forming an ideal overall setting that just feels right. Songs like "Denver Haircut" ("It doesn't have to be pure / It doesn't have to be perfect / Just sort of has to be worth it") and "Epaulets" make you feel right at home and reel you in with vibrant detail and oddball lyricism revolving around a story-telling talent rivaled by no-one, providing unique peeks through windows into other peoples lives and the world itself as told by Craig Finn.

The Hold Steady has always been at their best in songs that aren't exactly alternative rock nor are they indie rock, but somewhere in between. This is where the interplay between Craig Finn and Franz Nicolay results in unforgettable moments, such as "Traditional Village", a classic bar story that meets a philosophical take on life, all at the same time:

"The professor was pointing out the subtle distinctions / Of the difference between plunder and pillage / Everyone has such an important position / When you live in a traditional village [...] The pastor is reminiscing about the holiday pageant / And it's coming off more creepy than nostalgic / And the guys that he said would make us fishers of men / Were just grifters and grey alcoholics"

It's all supplemented with delightful, anthemic keyboards and horn instrumentation to give Finn's delivery extra oomph and focus in the soundscape, resulting in a perfect balance between the story and the instrumentation. If you remember "Teeth Dreams" and to an extent "Heaven is Whenever", the key gripes on those records was precisely that Finn's ability drowned in the rock sound. And that, my friends, is exactly why The Hold Steady needed Franz Nicolay to come back. The result is a fantastic return to what I consider the core sound of The Hold Steady: a fascinating piece of creative story-telling supplemented by Springsteen-esque instrumentation that ranges between indie, garage, and alternative rock in beautiful fashion.

Download: Denver Haircut, Traditional Village, Star 18, Epaulets, Entitlement Crew
For the fans of: Restorations, The Thermals, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Mould, Frank Turner
Listen: Facebook

Release date 16.08.2019
Frenchkiss Records

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