The Hold Steady

Stay Positive

Published July 31, 2008.The Hold Steady Stay Positive(VAGRANT)Dropping a Hold Steady record in the middle of summer is like releasing a foreign documentary against a superhero movie---why bother with a quality attempt when The Ting Tings and Lil' Wayne will dominate the season? Because sometimes the movie is Onceand it turns out to be a brave move in alternative programming. And the Minneapolis five-piece knows it: "We're gonna build something this summer," Craig Finn declares on the chorus of opener "Constructive Summer," which goes on to describe iconic scenes of whiskey and whimsy atop water towers. When The Hold Steady is pegged as "indie rock's best bar band," it means the band doesn't take itself as seriously as Death Cab for Cutie. They're not tight, Finn can't really sing (though he's been trying harder since Boys and Girls in America) and heavy use of piano and synth lines undercut most indie earnestness. But Finn spins clever, engrossing Springsteen-level Americana yarns (except he really isblue collar) about drinking and sex that surprise with their sudden poignancy and ridiculousness (the sub-Frampton vocal box solo on "Joke About Jamaica"). "We're the dust in the spotlights/we're just kinda floating," he sings on "Slapped Actress," and though it was another boozy singer who yelled, "We'll all float on OK," The Hold Steady will, too. ---Tara Thornecategories: Coast pick

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