Release Date: Mar 25, 2014
Record label: Razor & Tie
You only call yourself The Hold Steady if you think most people aren’t holding steady to start with. Perhaps the main reason the band is always compared to Springsteen is because, as is the case with The Boss’ work, the main purpose of their songs is to give their listeners a reason to stand stalwart against life’s assailing tides with the help of spitfire lyrics and old-fashioned rock and roll guitars. Craig Finn and company have always known the recipe to serve up rock as inspiring as it is distinctly American, but sometimes they lose the spices to make it more than formulaic.
What better way for the Brooklyn natives to celebrate their 10th anniversary than by releasing their first batch of new material in four years? On their sixth LP, Craig Finn and company deviate from the formula that made them indie darlings. Relying on a wall of distortion and nasty guitar riffs, the results sees The Hold Steady with an in-your-face, rapid fire record that’s arena-ready and their most ambitious to date. .
It's the dream of every band to produce a record that's an instant hit and becomes a modern classic. But it's also a curse.The Hold Steady made waves with their sophomore release Separation Sunday, but it was their third, Boys and Girls in America that took the rock and roll world by storm. Craig Finn's previous band Lifter Puller had a solid following, especially in their birthplace of Minneapolis, but they were weird–odd time signatures, synths, Finn rambling on in a speaking voice about drinking, drugs and the music scene.
On their last album, 2010's Heaven Is Whenever, the Hold Steady felt like a band in a state of transition as they found their footing after parting ways with Franz Nicolay. On Teeth Dreams, it feels as though the Brooklyn band have spent the intervening time finding their way, returning with a refreshed sound for their sixth album. Added to the ranks is former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge, who joined up with the band as a touring guitarist before eventually settling in as a full-fledged member.
If you’ve ever had that dream where your teeth fall out or crumble apart, you can recall that tossing-and-turning feeling of helplessness and existential dread that you can’t escape from while you’re asleep. For the Hold Steady, though, its Teeth Dreams are about being trapped in reality, what happens after coming down from a high and facing up to the latent fears and nagging disappointments that all the self-medicating could fend off for only so long. This time out, there’s not so much about booze and drugs, and nothing about hoodrats, with the key terms on Teeth Dreams being frustration and anxiety—“waking up with that American sadness”, as Craig Finn puts it strikingly.
Six albums into an extraordinary tenure, most listeners will know where they stand on the Hold Steady – a Brooklyn rock band gestated in Minneapolis, who recently celebrated 10 years amplified. These five men, fond of a beer or 12, embody a great and rare contradiction: they come with equal amounts of brains and brawn. Theirs is a muscular, air-punching sound that resuscitates the melodic churn of American hardcore, but cleaves close to an older tradition, where ringing guitar solos, feet on monitors and storytelling are sacrosanct.
It's hard to find a more unified fan base than that of the Hold Steady. So when the band released Heaven is Whenever in 2010 (their fifth record in six years), it was hard to shake a feeling of collective disappointment. It wasn't a bad record, but it didn't hit as hard as the string of four excellent records that came before it; it sounded tired.After a much-needed break, the Hold Steady are back with the solid Teeth Dreams.
Ten years on from their debut – and four from the lineup shuffle that produced 2010's underwhelming Heaven Is Whenever – Brooklyn's blue-collar rock heroes sound like a band recharged. There's an immediacy here that's disorienting – all pummelling drums, gritty, sailing riffs and Craig Finn's bartender poetry set to spitfire. But after the knockout comes the pay-off.
The Hold SteadyTeeth Dreams(Positive Jams/Washington Square)4 out of 5 starsStream the albumThe Hold Steady have acknowledged the rut into which they felt their music had plunged on their last album, 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever. After a four-year hiatus and some personnel changes, one might expect the band to make big changes to their sound. It’s perhaps ironic then that their quasi-comeback succeeds precisely because it doubles down on all the things fans loved about them in the first place.
"I heard the Cityscape Skins are kinda kicking it again," Craig Finn blurts out at the beginning of Teeth Dreams, the sixth LP from the Hold Steady. Over the years, the Cityscape Skins—a fictional coterie of tattoo-emblazoned Twin Cities street toughs—have darkened the doorways of many a Hold Steady song. But, beyond a fleeting reference to a Skins-stocked Youth of Today show on "Barely Breathing"—from the faintly disastrous Heaven Is Whenever—it's been some time since Finn got the gang together.
On the Hold Steady's sixth album, frontman Craig Finn is still finding new ways to chronicle the underside of dead-end partying (see the grueling opener, "I Hope the Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You"). The Brooklyn crew's punked-up bar-band rock is more streamlined now. But the addition of a second guitarist makes for a big sound that gives Finn more room for detail and nuance.
Three years on from ‘Heaven is Forever’, sixth album ‘Teeth Dreams’ could have come at any point during The Hold Steady’s ten year career thus far. On the surface at least, very little has changed. The band still insists on riding their brand of likeable rock n roll, punk roots and America-centric storytelling, yet there are a few noticeable tweaks to the band here.The influence of producer Nick Raskulinecz, whose work with the Foo Fighters, Deftones and erm, Rush, is apparent from the start.
In the latter half of the 21st century, The Hold Steady had as much a right as any band to be called the best rock band around. Tad Kubler’s big hooks, Franz Nicolay’s floating, pretty contributions on keys and Craig Finn’s brilliant lyrics, stories about punks with names like Hallelujah and Charlemagne traveling Kerouac-style across the country, taking drugs and going to parties with the wrong people allowed them to occupy a much-needed but otherwise-empty niche. They wrote big, anthemic rock songs for punks that couldn’t jive with Bruce Springsteen, and Finn’s lyrics, despite their epic, sprawling subject matter, were rooted in clever turns of phrases, references both inter- and intratextual, that were well-suited to the generation of internet hipsters that James Murphy imagined losing his edge to.
There are many great lines that Craig Finn has offered up with a grin, shrugged shoulders, spit raining down on a pile of sweaty dudes — and maybe a stray girl — all of whom are shouting his words back to him or finishing hanging phrases in call and response. But of all the razor sharp, knowingly dark, and often wise-beyond-his-and-our-years-combined lines, “In dying at least he didn’t have to deal with new wave for a second time” sticks out. At the time, 2005, when Separation Sunday came out, that line spoke to the music scene, with The Killers, and The Bravery, and She Wants Revenge.
There’s a point about halfway through “Oaks”—the “holy shit, it’s nine minutes long” closing song of The Hold Steady’s sixth album, Teeth Dreams—where everything drops out except for the guitar and vocals. Space opens up. Echoes swirl. Craig Finn sings about “mountains all covered in oaks.” Yes, sings.
It’s been four years since the last Hold Steady album, and the rock quintet wastes no time reestablishing its high-energy bona fides on “Teeth Dreams. ” The New York-by-way-of-Minneapolis rockers — who cut their “Teeth” near Nashville — erupt out of the speakers on “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” with frontman Craig Finn spinning a gripping yarn about old friends with bad intentions that manages to reassure and alarm. From there it’s all dense rock propulsion — including “On With the Business” which sounds like the aural equivalent of an impending bar brawl — on the group’s sixth album and first on its own Positive Jams imprint.
Stereo matters on “Teeth Dreams,” the sixth studio album by the Hold Steady. The album starts with an insistent guitar line on the right and a snare drum socking along with it dead center, buttonholing a listener for five urgent seconds before a second guitar chimes in to fill the space on the ….
Being dubbed “The New E Street Band” could prove a millstone for some groups, but The Hold Steady don’t seem overly burdened by the tag. They’ve been attracting high-end critical praise despite fairly moderate record sales for ages: In Walk Like A Man, a 2011 study of Bruce Springsteen fandom, author Robert J. Wiersema identifies The Hold Steady as the true 21st century inheritors of The Boss’s flame.
The Hold Steady — Teeth Dreams (Washington Square)The Hold Steady’s two best albums, Almost Killed Me and, especially, Separation Sunday, explore a shared landscape and narrative, a desolate but oddly convivial space where disconnected young people find drugs, liquor, sex, each other and, finally, Jesus. It’s a vivid place, limned by clever, intricately self-referential language, its crazily enthusiastic story-teller moved to illustrate key points with gestures which, by now, are so intimately entwined with the songs that his audiences mirror them back to him. The music on these two albums was brashly, bluffly beautiful, full of hard stops and sudden explosions, of coruscating bass churn and weightless flights of guitar fancy, of literal quotes from Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Peter Frampton and Zeppelin.