Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Published in 2006

So, today is February 17th in my reality, but if you're seeing this, it's actually March 26th to you.  So, I'm working at about a month backlog, which is quite nice.  I've found that this is about as far ahead as I can get without getting burnt out.

I figured I'd do an inside The Album Project post for a couple of reasons.  First, I have no personal attachment to this album, so I can be more objective in the way I am treating it.  Second, Best of March is kind of boring to write about, because they albums are generally too good, but not my style.  Third, I'm sitting at school on graduation day, just waiting for time to pass.  So maybe I'll get a bit more of a backlog by the time this is done, but I can always spend some time on this.

When I sit down to write an album project, my first step is, unsurprisingly to listen to the album at least once.  I try to not do that much while I am doing that, chatting on the internet is the most time consuming task, and I don't find it that distracting.  I actually enjoy polling my friends that I chat with about their opinions about bands and sounds and what they like.  This makes it a lot easier for me to get the writing flowing too.  So, last night, after I finished writing some stuff for another project, I put on The Hold Steady, and just hung out and chatted with people.

Since I don't personally know that any of my friends were big fans, I just chatted and set up the header for this album project.  Usually just three searches on google, one for album cover, one for the wiki and, in this case, one for the AVClub.  I actually try to avoid reading these, because I am trying to give you just my opinions without being shaded by the outside.  Some albums are already spoiled for me, but these are usually the ones that I already have a bunch to say about.  The header, if you've noticed is the only thing that stays reasonably consistent through the whole project.  So, there is that.

I did all of that stuff last night, so that today, I could sit down and start writing.  I usually look for some kind of in on the album, or something that I have a bit to say about.  This is generally the hardest part of the writing process to me.  Once I get some words flowing out of me, I can usually just go until the end, but getting the flow started takes some doing.  (Notice: I have used this as the spike to get the writing flowing, so I am good to go for the rest of this project.)

The Hold Steady is the center of my world at this point.  It is dependent on the album, of course, because the more I enjoy the album, the more locked into it I get.  I try to listen to the album at least three times if I like it a ton, two times if I am not completely into it.  This number is entirely variable.

The album that I am listening to is actually pretty incredible on the second listen.  Last night, I was just trying to get locked into the album, and get a sense of the space and time of the album.  I usually will attempt to put the recording into a place, so with The Hold Steady, I am seeing a small empty bar, a place of dark wood, that is the place that everyone goes before the house party later that night.

Then, I attempt to look at the music itself.  It's interesting to me that The Hold Steady keeps an interesting tension between the subjects of the songs and the sound.  What I mean is that the songs are obviously about drugs, alcohol, sex and youth, but the world weary voice and the sound of the music is obviously designed to make you think that it is a retrospective look at the life lived.

The music is usually the next thing, because it (in a good album) enhances these themes or (in a bad album) detracts from them.  The Hold Steady's lead vocalist has an incredible talent for injecting every syllable with feeling and the tension that I mentioned before.  The hints of keyboard and the general talent on display is pretty amazing.  The songwriting is good, and the touches of jazz, blues, folk and other major styles really enhances the sound of the album.

About here is where I start thinking about good ways to wrap up the project.  I'm looking for that thing to go out on, that I am happy to leave the conversation at.  I usually have written myself into a corner praising the album at this point, so I have to think really hard about the things that I don't like.  For instance, while I understand that Chillout Tent needs the different voices to highlight the different perspectives, it was somewhat shocking and unfortunate, because the lead singers voice is so distinctive that it is difficult to listen to other voices when you could hear his.

Anyway, this album is incredibly good, well done, and really fun to listen to.  It actually reminds me of Bruce Springsteen a ton, which is a good thing.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and hope you enjoyed this peek behind the album project.  I'm going to get to work on the next one.

"The parrot wipes it's beak, even though it is already clean."

PS. Comments are good! Give Phil Five! Want to write an album project?  Want to read one about your favorite album?

PPS. Thank God, Best of March is over.  HIPSTERS!

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