Craig Finn, The Hold Steady's front man, is known for his joyous stage presence and romantic depictions of tragic, seedy characters in search of redemption. On his second solo album, Faith in the Future, he trades in such grandiose notions for something quieter and more introspective. This shift in most evident in the album's stripeed down instrumentation, wihch, aside from a few jarringly fuzzed out guitar-solos, is so sparse and unobtrusive that it borders on being bland. In addition, Finn's lyrical delivery comes off as tired and tepid - a striking contrast to the wholehearted enthusiasm that makes The Hold Steady's work so appealing. The best songs on this record derive strength from their thematic content. On 'Maggie I've Been Searching for Our Son' and 'Roman Guitars', the lyrics are tender and optimistic as Finn looks for salvation after a series of rough life experiences. On 'Newmyer's Roof', he recounts the disorienting horror of watching the Twin Towers fall from a friend's roof in Brooklyn, and the search for meaning that ensues. While there are frequent instances of skillfully crafted lyrics found throughout the album, the lackluster music they're packaged in prevents them from shining through.
Ever since Gloss Drop dropped in 2011, I have been waiting for a new Battles album. This is pretty much what I wanted. If you haven’t heard Battles before, I can basically describe them as an alternate universe Lighting Bolt. This album is very complex, yet very accessible. Every sound is picked carefully and every track develops beautifully. It’s almost orchestral but way more fun. This album tries to hone in on a more unique sound, so it turns out to be more cohesive than Gloss Drop. There aren’t any tracks that rely on vocals like their previous album, which is great and a step in the right direction in my opinion. This album feels like one giant jam session in all the right ways.
Low’s eleventh release (boy, they’ve been around for a while) is largely what you’d expect from the low-key, droning, dream anti-pop group. Low continues to pursue its low-tempo, heavy-yet-ethereal sound, and what few tracks feel like them moving away from their roots (“Kid in the Corner”) feel a little trite. This is more of what you expect from the classic band; nothing more nothing less. “Landslide” is the standout track here, a ten-minute marathon that moves between tempos and tones with abandon, a real musical narrative. For more poppy material, check out “Spanish Translation” and “Lies”, the latter being almost… Cocteau Twins in terms of its sound. Not what you’d expect from Low, and they don’t do the dream pop sound as well as their forebears, and that whole sound has been used and dismantled a dozen times over in the independent pop scene, but Low’s signature vocals lend much-needed some credence to it.
While it’s not as warm as the phenomenal Glazin’, Happy Damage expunges the more low-key production of Jacuzzi Boys’ self-titled in favor of hard, fast, fun garage rock. It’s 15 minutes of in-your-face, no-holds-barred action. It sounds like touring with King Tuff has rubbed off on them to some extent, and that’s more than welcome. The energy on the title track “Happy Damage” is phenomenal, kicking things off perfectly. The only track that comes close to it in terms of anthemic speed is “Electric Days”, but the rest of the album is rad and straightforward melodic garage. It’s a shame this came out on the tail-end of summer; it’s a great summer jam record.