Music

The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me

Jason MacNeil

The Hold Steady

Almost Killed Me

Label: French Kiss
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The Hold Steady are half of the former group Lifter Puller. If you're not familiar with Lifter Puller, the group mixed a lot of energy and intensity as seen in the likes of the Replacements, but had lyrics which seemed to be at least of a post-secondary education genre. The genesis of the group, fronted by singer/songwriter Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler, was actually more of a result of the "electroclash" flash-in-the-pan fad around last year. The Hold Steady is intent on bringing the "rock" back into the roll. Thus, the group sat down to record this very sparse and demo-sounding album, which kicks off with "Positive Jam" -- a minimal guitar strumming and a stream of consciousness diatribe that brings Jello Biafra to mind, both in terms of style and actually vocal pitch. Going through the various decades, the rhythm section is barely a whisper as drummer Judd Counsell makes himself present with a smashing of cymbals. "The seventies got heavy / We woke up on bloody carpets", Finn sings before the tune opens up to a thick and grandiose Floydian rock feel and into a speaker-alternating Southern rock sound.

More concrete and bouncier is the meaty and crunchy style of "The Swish", which brings to mind early R.E.M. meets Zeppelin if such an entity exists. The guitar work of Kubler is on the verge of being too bombastic, but each time he is able to rein himself back in. Finn's snarl as he refers to Robbie Robertson is suited for the track, although he just gives enough of himself to make it a pleasing piece of ear candy. Sort of like Johnny Rotten reading poetry. There are also references to Nina Simone and other rock celebrities as it builds one brief riff after another. "Barfruit Blues" follows the same momentum but isn't quite as heavy, maybe because the sound is very low, as if Finn is singing with his head poking out of a doorway. "It's good to see you back in a bar band, baby", he sings before the guitars seize control a la the Strokes. The 'Mats "Little Mascara" is a fair comparison as the rhythm section tends to open it up while it moves along.

The first clunker is the mid-tempo pop rock of "Most People Are DJs", which sounds too forced and too formulaic. It's the first time that the adventurous nature is overshadowed by a basic arrangement. It improves halfway through, but isn't enough to get past that first large obstacle despite some stellar plucking from Kubler and bassist Galen Polivka. One good quality you hear early is that they're not afraid to "jam" or fully flush songs and ideas out, as this song goes on and on before being abruptly snipped. "Certain Songs" is a piano-driven ditty reminiscent of Randy Newman as he talks about certain songs being "scratched into our souls". It's a scuzzier Meat Loaf or Springsteen-like narrative but with far more bite than the Boss or Mr. Loaf. The military drumbeat builds up to a crescendo prior to dying out again. Thankfully, "Knuckles" lives up to its initial expectations, making it the first great song here.

Finn is able to channel his anger or rants into short but telling lyrics, especially on tunes like "Hostile, Mass.". Talking about clubber parties and drinking dark Barcardi, the song's gritty edge matches the edgier lyrics. The saxophone is another surprise, bringing to mind Springsteen yet again but to a lesser extent. The last couple of tunes, particularly "Sweet Payne", are more of a Marah-cum-Bob Seger -- a nice and melodic bar band that keeps you engaged. After "Killer Parties", you realize that the band is far greater than the sum of its parts. And far better than it should be. A real sleeper pick.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image