The Austin Chronicle

Phases & Stages

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, May 21, 2010, Music

The Hold Steady

Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant)

The Hold Steady perfects the rock & roll edge that doesn't actually cut, a sound embedded in enough classic rock to be instantly recognizable while evoking youthful restlessness more nostalgically celebratory than wanton. In other words, the now-Brooklyn quartet (minus Franz Nicolay on keyboards) has always been more mature than its sentiments and safe in the execution of Craig Finn's vocal catharsis. While fifth disc Heaven Is Whenever doesn't break formula, it proves slightly more temperate and introspective without compromising big riffs. Steel guitar opener "The Sweet Part of the City" misdirects as "Soft in the Center" and "Rock Problems" even the anthemic keel, though the softer "We Can Get Together" proves surprisingly effective. The Baltic lope and out-of-nowhere clarinet of "Barely Breathing" offers a new twist, but "The Smidge" and "Hurricane J" return to typical Hold Steady, parentally approved warnings of slumming too close to the gutters.


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