The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

Separation Sunday

Frenchkiss Records

The Hold Steady seemingly came out of nowhere to release what became the album of 2005, Separation Sunday. Held together by the core of Craig Finn (singer) and Tad Kubler (lead guitar), both from ’90s act Lifter Puller, Hold Steady weld their tales of trash culture, excess and wasted youth on salvaged and recycled barroom riffs. As a couple of mid-west transplants by way of Minneapolis to the Bronx, their sound hearkens back to growing up in a suburban wasteland, where classic rock dominates the airwaves. The kind of place where there’s nothing else to do but get high and drive around. Their upbringing is reflected in the power chords and thunderous rhythm section that fuel the music. This sound underscores Finn’s marble-mouthed warble, which sings tales that conflate religious and chemical excess; songs that are positively a wonder to behold. What could have sounded like retro-kitsch in lesser band’s hands, comes off positively refreshing and invigorating. It’s an Exile on Main Street for a whole new generation.

On Separation Sunday, the album rests upon a loose song cycle centering on Holly, a casualty of the party-going lifestyle. As anyone who came-of-age after 1968, they either know someone like this or is/was someone like this; it’s the kid with the heart of gold, who’ll do anything for anyone — the former alter-boy, girl scout, or valedictorian, who falls in with a bad crowd (as Finn sings, “the real sweet girl, who’s made some not sweet friends”). Or, as Finn sings on the album’s centerpiece, “Stevie Nix”:

She got screwed up by religion/she got screwed by soccer players/She got high for the first time in the camps down by the banks of the Mississippi river/Lord to be seventeen forever/She got confused about the truth/she came to in a confession/She got high for the last time in the camps down by the banks of the river/Lord to be 33 forever…/She got strung out the scene/she got scared when it got druggy/The way the whispers bit like fangs in the last hour of the parties/Lord to be 33 forever.

These are the kids who get high at seventeen and come down when they’re turning thirty-three, or forty-three, or never.

Throughout the tracks, Finn refuses to take the easy way out and mythologize the characters; he has the steely-eyed view of the morning-after survivor. Although he treats them with respect and compassion, he never lets on this is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a series of poor decisions, compounded by accidents and the all-too-human capacity for self-deception.

I have to say, though, that not since the heyday of the Afghan Whigs has bad news sounded so positively joyous. The lyrical dexterity Finn employs, coupled with the thick power chords and crunch, carry the album from one strong song to the next. Not only is it one of the most satisfying albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in recent years, it’s also one of the most consistent.

Frenchkiss Records:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Phantasmagoria X: “Reckoning”
    Phantasmagoria X: “Reckoning”

    John DiDonna’s medley of creepy stories and trilling dance returns once more with a tour though all the Central Florida hot spots from Deland to Tampa.

  • Killer Nun
    Killer Nun

    Let Anita Ekberg and director Giulio Berruti introduce you to the nunspolitation genre with Killer Nun.

  • The Tree House
    The Tree House

    One of the most highly regarded works to screen at this year’s Locarno Film Festival was Quý Minh Trương’s The Tree House (Nhà cây), a documentary that dramatically utilizes a science fiction lens to simultaneously examine the cultures of multiple ethnic groups in Vietnam while compelling the audience to question the contemporary importance of visual documentation.

  • Disturbed Furniture
    Disturbed Furniture

    Continuous Pleasures (Arevarc Records). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
    A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

    Sleeping your way to the top is one thing, but killing your way up there works a just as well.

  • Deathtrap

    A writer hits a dry spell and then murders his wife, all in the name of making a hit.

  • Cabin of Fear
    Cabin of Fear

    Campers freak out when a murderer is on the loose and they have no cell phone reception.

  • Jake La Botz
    Jake La Botz

    They’re Coming For Me (Hi-Style / Free Dirt). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Howlin Rain
    Howlin Rain

    Under The Wheels: Live From The Coasts, Volume 1 (Silver Current Records). Review by Michelle Wilson.

  • The Lilacs
    The Lilacs

    Endure (Pravda). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

From the Archives