Modern Hut is Joe Steinhardt, a co-founder of Don Giovanni Records, one of indie rock’s finest labels at the moment. Based in New Jersey, the label grew out of the New Brunswick DIY/punk scene. Steinhardt has proven himself a keen ear for talent, having released great albums by the Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, and Vacation, just to name a few. Steinhardt takes the path of intimacy with this release, recording the album with just an acoustic guitar and his flat tuneless voice. Marissa Paternoster of the Screaming Females produced this album and she adds some nice instrumental flourishes throughout, even participating in a duet on “Life”.
Steinhardt takes up David Berman’s “all my favorite singers couldn’t sing” philosophy. He often recalls Calvin Johnson’s deep, baritone drawl. The first few songs on Generic Treasure are promising. On “Mid Tempo”, Steinhardt rambles “Maybe you could help me out or you could just call me back so I’m not swimming in doubt”, perfectly capturing the neuroticism that most of us experience when we put ourselves out there in some way, usually with someone of the opposite sex to which we’re attracted. Steinhardt lives in his head throughout this album and at first it definitely works. On “Just Pray”, he talks about how he doesn’t really believe prayer will work. “History” is the standout here. Steinhardt criticizes the state of indie music with “When I woke up I saw a nation of overnight sensations / Where irony was currency” and perfectly encapsulates the current hipster ironic mentality and the fear of any type of earnestness.
Steinhardt’s self-lacerating criticisms and social critiques work for the first three songs on Generic Treasure but get old really fast over the expanse of twelve songs. With this type of intimate folk music, the artist needs to have a real knack for either melodies or lyrics and the best artists are good at both. The lyrical content on this album starts out strong but after “History”, Steinhardt’s words pretty much range from completely inane to just god-awful. “Life” keeps repeating the line, “I’m not proud of the things that I’ve done in this life but that’s alright cause I will die.” These are the epiphanies that Steinhardt seems to have throughout this album and they really just don’t say or mean anything. On songs like “Time” and “Louis Street”, he sounds like he doesn’t care about what he’s doing at all and comes across as bored. His simplistic playing falls out of time and the lyrics are really just bullshit. “I’ve been thinking about someone who I shouldn’t think about anytime / It’s got me wondering if there is a way of maybe reinventing time ...Yea I would put it all on the line and I guess that’s fine.” He’s really not saying anything here. It’s almost funny to imagine someone coming up with those lyrics and actually writing them down as keepers.
This album is a difficult listen and that isn’t because the music here is overly complicated or very weird. Instead Generic Treasure is difficult because the music just isn’t very enjoyable. In fact, aside from the first three songs, I can’t really imagine anyone, including Steinhardt himself, enjoying this album all the way through (And I have a vivid imagination). If this were just an EP consisting of the first three songs, it’d be a solid release. Unfortunately, his “I hate myself and yet I’m better than everyone else” persona gets old real fast.
On “America”, Steinhardt asks, “Can someone out there in America tell me what’s wrong?” and that pretty much sums up this album. Steinhardt is constantly looking for the bad in everything but he is too inside his own head to extract any sort of meaning from his negative experiences nor understand what it is about this world he finds so distasteful. All of us can be negative at times but Steinhardt is so down on himself and the world that there seems to be no hope in sight and it just ends up not being very relatable. After the first three songs, Steinhardt complains about everything without actually saying anything. There are plenty of artists who traffic in intimate folk music and I’d say listen to those artists (Bright Eyes, Mountain Goats, Silver Jews) instead and leave Generic Treasure be.
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