The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday (CD)

The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday / 2005 Frenchkiss / 11 Tracks / / Reviewed 26 April 2005

The Hold Steady start off “Separation Sunday” with a very confusing style that really mixes a Tim Armstrong-style of vocal and ska-influenced guitar riffs with a Talking Heads-like structure. In what seems to be an ode to a more pissed off Conor Oberst, Hold Sunday’s “”Cattle and the Creeping Thing” uses the same dominant set of vocals, coupling them with a twinkling piano and a compelling backing beat. In a sense, lead vocalist Craig really bring the music into a Streets-like constructing, putting out eir vocals as the key determinant for the tempo of the track, instead of just allowing the instrumental arrangement assume that duty. The shuffling beat of “Cattle” jumps focus a number of times,and makes for an ersatz, yet always impressive and upbeat track. Continuing the same style of assault for “Your Little Hoodrat Thing”, Craig takes the place of Jello Biafra in the purveyor of slightly-snotty rock, even if Craig’s vocals explore a depth of harmony that Jello has never (wanted) touched.

The allure of The Hold Steady is the ability that they can milk the cigarette-dragging, Denis Leary-esque vocals of Craig for the entirety of the disc, a feat that would result in a tepid and tedious album for any other band that attempted it. The arrangements, not the vocals are the main part of this disc that tends to age, and with just a slightly-sung, slightly-spoke vocals Craig is able to further the story of “Separation Sunday” further than any of eir compatriots on the instrumental side of things. The first cracks in the disc’s veneer begin to show during the atonal and chaotic “Charlemagne in Sweatpants”. A half-cooked mess of seventies-influenced rock, neither the virtusosic guitars or the rambling vocals on this track can salvage this track.

“Multitude of Casualities” is a resumption of the earlier form that really impresses most about The Hold Sunday; dreaming guitars mesh well with angsty vocals to make an ebb and flow of emotion. The rest of “Separation Sunday” is hit or miss, with the slower-tempo of “Don’t Let Me Explode” only bearing fruits after a wall of sound is created by the synth/guitar mix. “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” uses the “That 70s Show” theme guitar riff to create a differing sound in the later echelons of this disc, but by and large fails to elicit any gasps of awe. The Hold Steady’s disc is solid, with as many dips as soaring peaks.

Top Tracks: Cattle and the Creeping Things, Stevie Nix

Rating : 5.2/10

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