The Hold Steady | Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie)

cd teeth dreamsIt’s like they’ve blended Hüsker Dü and the Replacements (as a shout out to their Minneapolis roots) with that classic rock sound from the late ’70s they love so much.

 

Teeth Dreams, the new album from Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis stoner intellectuals The Hold Steady, can be viewed several different ways. Hell, the band can be viewed several different ways. At worst, they are the best bar band paying homage to ’70s- to mid-’80-era rock. At best, they are the best damn bar band paying homage to ’70s- to mid-’80-era songs that (insert obligatory lyric reference) will get scratched into your soul. Teeth Dreams itself can be viewed as a return to form of Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America brilliance. As I’m not one to really use or like the phrase “return to form,” this should just be viewed as a great album in a catalog of great albums (with 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever being the exception).

Craig Finn and the band kick things off in a very strong way with “I Hope This Whole Thing Doesn’t Frighten You.” It’s meant as a story of a man taking his new love through his old stomping grounds, hoping that his past doesn’t drive her away. Throughout the whole album, the band leads us on a journey back through its old stomping grounds, with imagery and characters meant to remind us of the lexicon that is the Hold Steady’s universe.

But are they? Is Craig really singing about Holly, Charlamagne, and the rest of his cast of druggies, hoodrats, blue-collar drug philosophers, and ne’er-do-wells, or is his singing about new people? That is up to the listener to decide, as Finn doesn’t provide specific names or details. Lyrically, the songs are slightly darker than in the past. Teeth Dreams is about the band members being older, some still engaging in recreational poor life choices, some still trying to make good on things, and others moving on. Not the day after a day-night situation, but more like a year or three later.

Musically, the band sounds pretty tight (yes, another lyrical reference), muscular yet melodic. It’s like they’ve blended Hüsker Dü and the Replacements (as a shout out to their Minneapolis roots) with that classic rock sound from the late ’70s they love so much. On “Heaven Is Whenever,” they seemed to be searching for themselves after the departure of Franz Nickolay, but have found themselves again here. The addition of Steve Selvidge as a second—and very capable—guitarist adds to things. The interplay between him and Tad Kubler greatly enhances and adds great depth to the band’s overall sound. Finn himself sounds great. Sure, he has his typical storytelling call-out style on some songs, but on most he actually sings, with none of it sounding out of place. The Hold Steady sounds so very determined and focused, a great example being the stunning closer “Oaks.”

Overall, this is the band’s best since Boys and Girls in America, if not better. It’s an outstanding solid effort that is not something one would expect from a band on its sixth LP. A | Mike Koehler

Standout tracks: I Hope the Whole Thing Doesn’t Frighten You, Spinners, The Ambassador, Almost Everything, Oaks

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