Monthly Archives: July 2014

Sound ‘Round: Old 97’s / The Hold Steady

American professionals

Old 97’s – Most Messed Up (ATO)

old 97's - most messed upSelf-described as “the most messed up motherfucker in this town,” Rhett Miller has “been doing this longer than you’ve been alive.” Through two decades, he’s grown to resent his bandmates, has ingested pills by the handful and has become callused by a perpetual life on the road. “Now you just do it because it’s what you do,” he drolly sings. Embattled, yes. Bitter, no. Coming up short on hooks, the mileage is apparent on album number ten. Miller leaves it to his trademark wit and sarcasm, however, to save the day on songs that get self-referential. “Intervention” skewers the very rock star excesses he celebrates on the opening track, and “The Disconnect” subtly reveals why the frontman continues a lifestyle that’s more monotonous than romantic – the escapism. Always traveling for pay and blowing his share on whiskey, he wouldn’t change any of it.  To quote his autobiographic chorus: “Rock n’ Roll’s been very, very good to me.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” / “Intervention” / “Wasted”

The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams (Washington Square)

the hold steady - teeth dreamsI care not for their long-running rock opera gimmick, and it’s a damn good thing Craig Finn’s lyricism is sharp enough to compensate for his unspectacular voice – a throaty bray that’s a mixture of Randy Newman and John Hiatt. Finn is smart enough to know his personal life doesn’t make for good songwriting fodder, so he’s forged a career of conceptualizing the plight of others, showering them with contradictions and empathy. This return to form after a brief hiatus is a series of case studies in American sadness: a low-life in Michigan who calls a dive bar home, a repeat offender in Minneapolis who can’t break his mean streak, a woman who sleeps in a storage unit in Tennessee and a schemer on the lamb in California. Finn holds up his end of the bargain, but Tad Kubler’s guitar work is as stale as day-old pub food. His riffs are half-cooked and the solos seem dated. He’s better off sticking with block chords and reverb – giving Finn’s big timbre a soft place to fall. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Spinners” / “Wait A While” / “The Ambassador

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Sound ‘Round: Parquet Courts / The Men

East Coast reppin’

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture?)

parquet courts - sunbathing animalMore drone than drone rock, this one is sparse even by their obsessively minimal standards. Steadfast in tempo and capable with melody on their breakout debut, here they slow the pace and become ever more diminutive in sound. Too stoned and lethargic to give a shit about immediacy, these songs can be a chore to sit through – a troubling sign given more than half of them clock in under 3:30. Much of the method remains the same: basement guitars dipped in Tex-Mex twang meets Lou Reed’s sneering sentiments. What’s absent is the will to construct convincing tunes – otherwise making their jadedness seem mean-spirited and dull. One positive: They wear longform well. The two longest tracks – lumbering and loud – are the best. Perhaps they have a future as a jam band. They’d have to cheer up first. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Instant Disassembly” / “She’s Rolling” / “Bodies”

The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (Sacred Bones)

the men - tomorrow's hitsFor their fifth album in as many years, they at long last ditch the underdeveloped sludge of yesteryear and embrace the kind of brisk, hammering immediacy too many of their peers view beneath them. Full of ennui, cheap whiskey and an unquenchable urge to jam, think the Buzzcocks meets the Rolling Stones meets Crazy Horse. Where those bands could execute moments of whimsy and subtlety amid the distortion and drugs, these scraggly Brooklyn-ites have no use for stylistic variance. The goal is to elicit the sheer visceral feeling of bashing out bar chords to infinity. Lyrical content being secondary to gut instinct, the vocals are foggy and buried in the mix – a rote trick unbecoming of their budding confidence. The occasional paean of angst can be heard, however, from Mark Perro’s dazed disposition – “I hate being young!” is a personal favorite. With one foot on the bandwagon, I hope these eight songs live up to the album’s tongue-in-cheek title. If not for their wallets, at least for their understanding that structure is a real thing too, ya know. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Different Days” / “Another Night” / “Dark Waltz