With the distinct flavor of a heavy guitar wheedling, post apocalyptic REM, The Hold Steady returns with its first LP since 2010's Heaven Is Whenever. The band's songs often hinge on characters having something to prove, a refrain that rings true with the group's post-hiatus release following several critically acclaimed albums in at their peak popularity in the mid-2010s.
And Teeth Dreams doesn't disappoint—a pop record with Craig Finn's signature dense lyricism tells realistic tales of Midwest hotels and waffle house waitresses, vivid in blue-collar glory, chain-smoking cigarettes and seeking out one-night stand. Taking the Springsteen philosophy of painting downtrodden America into the album, the female misanthropes are the stands outs of the record, preserved in a catacomb of '90s rock revival, downward spiraling frustration stuck between pop and alt-rock.
"Spinners," the album's first single, is a heartbreaker of a song about a fickle and mysterious woman torn between anonymity and love in the city. The song is filled with warm, chugging guitar chords, major scale catchy lead riffs, blocky discontinuous drums and echoing vocals.
Johnny Cash's lost early '80s recording, "Out Among the Stars," a previously unreleased LP produced by Nashville countrypolitan legend, Billy Sherrill, is a strange sort of revival of an overlooked moment for the beloved country star. When sorting through the abundance of Cash-family heirlooms, June and Johnny's son, John Carter Cash, discovered this set of 13 songs, a clean and treble-heavy mix that is missing the well-loved low-range grit of Cash's better known catalogue.
Hearing Cash's vibrato navigating warmly through new tunes, ones that he and June had performed on stage during that era, is a treat. "If I Told You Who it Was," has the upbeat pacing and the bounce as Cash courts a Grand Ol' Opry starlet. "She Used to Love Me A Lot," comes off nearly psychedelic with choral background vocals, a Sherrill landmark, and ringing poppy guitars. Did the world need to hear these songs? Probably not. Should you listen to the album anyway for a few of the lost gems? Absolutely.
Toe tapping is an understatement when describing Divisionary, the debut LP from Portland seven-piece folk-choir Ages and Ages.
The album's title track, "Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)" snagged the band a coveted slot on NPR's Heavy Rotation, 10 SXSW Discoveries Public Radio Can't Stop Playing. The building morality ballad grows in rounds of choral phrasing choruses, starting with individual instruments accompanying the singers, and finally giving way to full-scale lush harmonies and bursting instrumentation, a twirling layering strategy that reoccurs on the record in almost every song—along with peppered hand-clapping throughout—structural strategies shared by other PNW bands like the Head and the Heart.
Released on Partisan Records, a label that is home to Deer Tick, and the Heartless Bastards, as well as Ages and Ages' Portland contemporaries Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, and Pure Bathing Culture, the band takes a distinctly less alt-country, less laptop-influenced approach than its label-mates, but rather opts for more organic flowing folk-pop on Divisionary.