When I think of the Hold Steady, I think back to something music-journo Justin Farrar wrote about the rise of the band Comets on Fire: he calls them a bar band, in fact "the best bar-rock band ever known to man," but something about their acceptance as "in-the-vanguard, underground artists" doesn't sit well with him. His conclusion? It's because Comets on Fire are "all instruments and no storytelling." He, in fact, presents this as the very thing that relegates them to bar-rock status, arguing that bar-bands, by definition, lack storytellers.
I thought this was a pretty good axiom until I heard the Hold Steady album Separation Sunday, an album that rarely strives, sonically speaking, to provide anything more than old-fashioned bar rock, but which lyrically functions as a song cycle roughly on par with The Mountain Goats' All Hail West Texas ("fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys"). The characters on Separation Sunday are born-again Christians or drug-addled burnouts or both, and although the title of the new album, Boys and Girls In America, reveals that the Hold Steady guys are taking aim at bigger themes, the general air of dead-endedness and clutching desperation still permeates.
For instance, this track, "Hot Soft Light," which basically describes the trajectory of every Hold Steady song ever written by rhyming "recreational" with "medical" and then with "tentacles" (later "manacles").
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