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The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru The Passion
HAILED as the saviours of rock ‘n’ roll when they broke through in the mid-2000s, Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady arguably lost their way a little in the 2010s: charismatic keyboardist Franz Nicolay left and lead singer and genius lyricist Craig Finn built an impressive solo career.
However, performing weekend residences in various cities since 2016 seems to have revitalised the band (with Nicolay back on board). The outcome is an exhilarating collection of songs recorded over the past year, once again expertly mining the musical landscape somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (checkout the exuberant horns on Traditional Village) and Midwest punk rock outfits like The Replacements and Husker Du.
Though it never quite reaches the glorious emotional highs of their Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America records it’s nevertheless a welcome return to form.
School of Language
THE third album from School of Language — the side project of Field Music’s David Brewis — is a concept album about the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Recorded in Brewis’s hometown of Sunderland, the set was informed by Bob Woodward’s book Fear, US press coverage and Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight. Musically, the inspirations are also US, including soul-funk artists such as James Brown, Sly and Family Stone and Prince.
The stomping Nobody Knows is comprised of Trump’s deluded boasts (“No-one respects women like I do”), while Rocket Man is an intriguing slow-burn ballad. Interestingly, Trump’s nonsense utterances actually work very well as song lyrics.
Ultimately, though the focus on The Donald is amusing, there is little sincere emotion for the listener to grab on to for repeated listening. Is it anything more than a gimmick?
Hasta El Cielo
(Night Time Stories)
HAVING recorded two albums of laid back, almost entirely instrumental psychedelic funk-rock-soul, the Texas three-piece return with Hasta El Cielo — a dub version of their second record, 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo.
No doubt it’s my ignorance but beyond the influence of dub — more bass and drums, more reverb — I can’t hear a huge difference to the original album. That’s no bad thing though when the music is this good — the spacious sound creating an enticing calming effect (cielo is Spanish for heaven).
If you are looking for a handle on all this, then the closest comparison I can think of are the relaxed tracks on two early 1990s masterpieces – KLF’s Chill Out and Screamadelica by Primal Scream.
With two tracks produced by legendary Jamaican producer Scientist, this is the coolest dinner party music you’ll hear this year.
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