In lieu of Official Album Reviews like we usually do around here, I thought it might be fun to present, instead, wholly unformed thoughts on some things that I happen to be listening to each week. So this week, here’s a few records that I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’m into because of how middle-of-the-road they are.
The Craig Finn thing is kind of easy to understand given that for much of my college career, no band was as important to me as The Hold Steady. However, their graph has been trending downward, unmistakably so in light of the uneven and bloated Heaven is Whenever, and a Finn solo record held the potential of a palate cleanser or perhaps a bold new step. But Finn isn’t one for boldness and Clear Heart Full Eyes sounds like The Hold Steady drained of its scope. It is an intimate album and its best songs, specifically “Jackson,” sound more personal than Finn has sounded in years. But they also sound like acoustic performances of Hold Steady songs, Finn’s storytelling remains idiosyncratic but a touch underealized and that sin was easier to ignore when it was covered up by the band’s boozy festival field scope. Clear Hearts Full Eyes has none of the Springsteen scope or Replacements rambunctiousness of Finn’s best work, its subdued, singer-songwriter vibe may be more mature but is far less satisfying.
Listeners looking for some of that old Hold Steady swagger, but with more than a touch of Clear Heart’s lilting Southern drawl would do well to turn to the newest record from Heartless Bastards. On Arrow, Heartless Bastards do little to change their heady, classic rock direction nor do they need to. This is the genre of music that Erika Wennerstrom’s voice was basically created to sing and she doesn’t let it down. Arrow cuts between heavy riffs and introspective slow cuts with ease and while the album struggles to match the highs of “Parted Ways,” that song is more than enough to fuel your Dazed and Confused reminiscing.
Tennis is probably the most embarrassing of these three records, after all it is the follow-up to a breeze-pop record about buying a sailboat and sailing along the Atlantic coast. It is indie at its Vampire Weekend bougiest and, to top it all off, this album is produced by one of the Black Keys guys and man do I fucking hate the Black Keys. And yet I can’t stop listening to Young and Old, even when I should be giving my attention to the perhaps too thought-out new Sleigh Bells album or the more complex Grimes record. Part of that is Young and Old simply makes itself so easy to listen to. I’m not even sure which song is the single because they’re all so brisk and joyous. The band added a light folk touch to their first record’s traditionalist pop bent and the result is a kind of generic brand Grizzly Bear (albeit lacking in the dense, exacting production, lush instrumentation, or intricate songwriting that we’d need for such a comparison to make any sense at all) that would fit almost as snuggly in the 1930s as it does on Spotify.