Craig Finn has been insanely busy through Trump and pandemic years, alternating between introspective solo albums and strident anthemic works with his band, The Hold Steady. So it’s not surprising that the two styles leak and recombine into each other. Their songs and live performances once were known for Springsteen-like paeans to romantic hope, but there’s not much optimism in Open Door Policy (Thirty Tigers). Some heavy-beat songs, like “Spices” and “The Feelers,” are downright bleak. Even those like “Lanyards,” with suggestions of wistful reflection, still warn us to “make better decisions.”
But The Hold Steady haven’t become a bummer because they no longer emulate Thin Lizzy. There’s lots of brass and woodwind funky support in some songs, and the backup singers in “Unpleasant Breakfast” offer cheerleader whoops — until you notice the lyrics: “The coffee’s cold, the toast is gross, I no longer see the romance in these ghosts.” Finn isn’t trying to depress us, merely prepare us for the decade to come.
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Tindersticks, Distractions (City Slang) – This new offering is an odd and understated work, and though lead singer Stuart Staples insists it’s not a “lockdown” album, the seven tracks are extended experiments. Opener “Man Alone” resembles Staples’ moody EDM solo work, “I Imagine You” and “The Bough Bends” are both spoken-word poetry pieces, and the album also features unusual covers of songs from Neil Young and Television Personalities. Fans familiar with their orchestrated, highly disciplined tracks might be confused, but the band takes some unanticipated and rewarding chances here.
Mogwai, As the Love Continues… (Rock Action Records) – The Scottish heavy instrumentalists known for ear-splitting live shows are on their 10th studio album already, not counting a multitude of soundtracks and remix releases. From the opening “To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth,” Mogwai resembles a 21st-century King Crimson, but in quiet moments offers hints of Montreal’s Godspeed You Black Emperor. The band’s livestream concert to debut this album featured visual accoutrements to make Mogwai a perfect soundtrack for the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.