The patriarch of indie-rock storytelling Craig Finn has returned with a new single, “Birthdays”. The accompanying music video features an omnium-gatherum of lo-fi camcorder footage—the wing of an airplane during take-off, a snow-mottled house in the suburbs, the US flag undulating in the wind, flashes of a city after dark seen from a car window. Finn’s America has always lived in these transient, postcard-like vignettes, with his character-driven lyrics telling complex stories of human relationships, our gaps in understanding and fleeting commonalities.
“Birthdays” centers on a family member, Anthony, with whom the narrator no longer feels connected. “Now that both our folks have passed / It’s hard to feel real tied to much / The bandage and the broken glass / The weak attempts to keep in touch,” he croons over dusty piano flourishes and a magic four-chord combination, probing the idea of eternal obligation to family. His voice is the opposite of detached. You can hear his bittersweet smile as he recounts “parties at your parents’ house where everything was neat”.
Eventually, a conclusion is reached: “Anthony, it’s nice to know there’s someone in this world who’s always known me.” The song’s dynamics are resigned. A lightly driven guitar frames the scene. An organ hums in the corner. A rusty saxophone solo trails over the song’s coda, as Finn repeats the words “passed down through the family”. Its simplicity is affecting. We can always count on Craig Finn for that.
“Birthdays” will appear on the Hold Steady frontman’s sixth solo album, A Legacy of Rentals, out 20th May.