Music

The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me

Jon Goff

The Hold Steady

Almost Killed Me

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

Craig Finn is a cyclone of words. Like early Springsteen, Finn seems dead set on cramming as much English as possible into three-and-a-half-minute chunks of bar band fury. But while Springsteen painted a magical landscape out of the trials and tribulations of work-a-day North Jersey kids, Finn openly laments the death of the rock and roll dream. His band is hot and steeped in the spirit, but no one wants to party. The scene is dead. Everyone one's a critic. Everyone's remembering the past too fondly. His friends are dead or burnt out or, worse, have sold out and given up. At times he grates on the nerves, and his propensity for repetition can be numbing, but he's got a legitimate complaint. And, more importantly, he's wearing his heart on sleeve. He loves what he's doing and it's a damn shame that more people don't.

The record begins rather ambitiously with Finn recounting the history of 20th century America in "A Positive Jam". Finn acquaints listeners with the grand tradition of folly and ends by asking the famously sheltered and ready-to-mope "clever kids" to hold steady. In fact, why not start a band, party, drive around and meet weird chicks who claim to be members of the Band or, even, Journey? That's the gist of the second track, "The Swish", which to its credit, rocks with as much glee as anything you're likely to hear this year. In fact, the Hold Steady is as solid a rock band as any around. They play like they've been sworn to uphold a hallowed tradition. The rhythm section is tight, the solos wail, and the echo pedals are out of the box and on stage where they belong. They even seem to be channeling the E-Street band on the earnest piano number "Certain Songs" and the sax workout on "Knuckles". But all is certainly not well. Finn already seems to lament the failure of his band so early in its history.

Frustration rears its ugly head on "Barfruit Blues". The band shows up, but kids either don't wanna party ("This was supposed to be a party / Half the crowd is calling out for born to run and the other half is calling out for born to lose") or have already wised up to the party scene ("Holly doesn't feel all that sweet about the places she has to sometimes go to get some sleep"). But Finn is undeterred; the ultimate truth and keystone to his argument is that somewhere out there kids are falling in love and feeling great. It should be you. The girl from "Certain Songs" who plays the songs everyone knows on the jukebox hasn't given up like the kids killing each other for meth in "Knuckles" or the suit-and-tie crowd drinking Bacardi in "Hostile, Mass". Or what's worse, some of the kids who didn't wanna give up just burned out instead like the girl from "Sketchy Metal" who only "takes the pick me uppers to counteract the put me to sleepers" or Gideon from "Sweet Payne" who's "living up in Bay City, Michigan, working at the Michelin".

To say that he's looking for a party that doesn't exist is an oversimplification. Finn is dreaming of a "unified scene," a place where fun is served up with a "double order of love and respect." But instead he's at the end of the line of a thousand self-annihilating parties. Last winter, his heart "was all hooked to computers" and his memory is finally failing him. On the album's closer, "Killer Parties", Finn reflects on his travels and comes up without an answer: "If she says we partied then I'm pretty sure we partied. I really don't remember. I remembered we departed from our bodies. We woke up in Ybor City". And we all know that's nowhere to be.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.