Western Massachusetts indie rock vets make good on a long awaited return to aluminum.
Think back to that band you played bass for in college. You were royalty on campus, getting all the best gigs at all the neighborhood shops and clubs. You even managed to strike fear in the hearts of the feeble scenes at rival schools, adding acreage to your turf with every semester. Then graduation reared its responsible head, ending your reign of free flyer photocopying and endlessly replenished freshman fan base. The well was designed to run dry. It sucks, I know. But not all college bands are lost and forgotten when the caps are tossed. Some keep trucking, albeit quietly, while you're busy crunching numbers and sweating your 401(k). New Radiant Storm King, for example, are a model of rock and roll tenacity, tending their rock and roll flame off and on for a sweet 16.
With The Steady Hand, their first album in five years, remaining core members Peyton Pinkerton and Matt Hunter have roped in a couple new recruits and released an album that builds on the My Bloody Valentine and Black Flag-influenced noise rock of their youth and shows the baby-fatted longhairs of today how it should be done.
The Steady Hand, in a nutshell, is exactly what its name implies. Sometimes the steady hand smacks, as on the bitter "Quicksand Under Carpet", which takes a social climbing friend to task for their tiresome smarminess and offering the fantastic condemnation "You should live in L.A." Snap! And sometimes the steady hand is holding a pen, as on the struggling relationship missive, "Fighting off the Pricks", which debuted last year on the CD accompaniment of a love poetry collection. A lot of "sensitive" bands mess this shit up all the time, sounding either whiny or boorish when delving into relationship-speak. But "Fighting off the Pricks" does justice to the complications of mature love, even when it's dissolving. "I need you to see you're making your last stand / While holding on to me and fighting off the pricks with one hand." The fact that the song is irresistibly hook-filled is gravy.
The band sounds like a nervier, spryer version of early Foo Fighters, which would make sense considering the similarities in scenes from which the two outfits arose. As tight and melodic as anything currently proffered on the airwaves, New Radiant Storm King maintain a level of inventiveness in both their lyrics and performance that has kept them a cut above since their days at Hampshire College in the then-alt-rock-hotbed of Amherst, Massachusetts (think Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, etc.).
Thematically, The Steady Hand seems most interested in assessing the effects of time and adulthood on ones self and friends, as on the quirky "View of a Wedding, Part II" or the straight-forward "Anthymn". "Reckonings of who you should have been / Are by comparison / Sure of who you were ten years ago / Where does a decade go?"
The only missteps come when the band makes simple judgments. "Accountant of the Year" takes the easy road in its critique of corporate drudgery: "A brass plaque on the wall / Embossed with my name / Says twenty-five lost years later / I'll be a gold watch wearing slave." I get the point, but it's a point I've had delivered to me umpteen times, often from myself. There's far too little unique detail in the song to make it seem like more than a cheap shot. A much better reflection on what does or does not constitute a life comes on the brief, poetic "Yardsale Legacy", which describes "photographs of pets long gone / And postcards from Niagara Falls". The lack of judgment and the presence of carefully selected imagery speak volumes, even in a two-minute chiming guitar vignette. Which goes to show you that it's not always the biggest and loudest that are built to last; sometimes it's the underdogs still kicking around under the radar, steady