I vividly remember the first time I heard Craig Finn wail out a line off of The Hold Steady's second album, Separation Sunday. I was in the back seat of a rental car, driving through the Arizona wilderness right after sunset with no cell phone service for miles. I'd had enough with family vacations--I don't know how I ended up there -- but this NPR feature was my first connection with the outside world. The Hold Steady are the first new escape I've had in years.
The release of Boys and Girls in America was something I've been anticipating, but I never would have guessed that it would get so much attention. The amount of buzz that's been surrounding this album -- since weeks before its release -- has been wild. As a follow up to the absolutely phenomenal Separation Sunday, this album doesn't disappoint. The new depth in the music is what serves as the surprise on an album from a band that could be mistaken for a Wednesday-night regular at some seedy dive.
The title comes straight out of Kerouac. Mineapolis native Finn was out to tackle the entire country this time around, and encapsulated it with piss, vinegar, and eloquence. The hang-outs may be different, but the parties and the lost loves are always the same. There are strong roots in Springsteen and arena rock, and appropriately so. I think this sound is something that the band's fans approve of. The lyrics, as in the two preceeding albums, are something you have to hear to believe. The massive nights are vivid as hell when you spin this album. For once, I can say I've been there-- Finn knows exactly what he's talking about.
I didn't set out to write this article about The Hold Steady, but their recent celebrity (including a whopping 9.4 on Pitchfork's unmerciful review scale) seemed like a good segue into the recognition of their unrelenting keyboard player. On to the feature.
Franz Nicolay just might be the hardest working man in music. The keyboardist, accordianist, and composer has been recieving so much (yet so little) exposure. His composition/chamber music collective, Anti-Social Music, started as a small project of friends who liked to make music and turned into something much more--a known name with original compositions performed live and released on CD. Nicolay's performance with the circus punk outfit The World/Inferno Friendship Society can't be described as anything less than frantic. Just listen to the opening notes of "Tattoos Fade;" Franz's fingers strike the keyboard's keys faster than your mind can even register--the next thing you know, he's moved on to his accordian.....and without missing a beat--back to the keyboard. He put in time with the gypsy punk band Guignol and he's recorded for countless others such as hardcore favorites Leftover Crack. With The Hold Steady touring extensively around the nation that it's come to love, it seems that Nicolay isn't planning on taking a break any time soon. Keep your eye on this mysterious moustachioed man. I think that we should be expecting (more) great things from him.