Coming out of years of tu-mult among band members, The Hold Steady emerge into 2014 with one hell of an album to present. Teeth Dreams is, in sum, a coherent, adventurous ode to despair. It's a wild ride.
"The new album exceeded any expectations that I had, and Craig really outdid himself," guitarist Tad Kubler told Scene earlier this year. "I'm just excited for people to hear it."
So far it seems that people have been equally excited to get their ears all over this piece. Critical reception has been pretty positive, especially on the heels of recent Hold Steady misses (Heaven is Whenever). The new one kicks off with "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," which sounds like an aphoristic coda for what's to come. Thing is, the preemptive warning works really well as a wide-open album opener.
The band covers a lot of ground, favoring a move toward more arena-rock methods. The whole album sounds BIG. Even down-tempo introspections like "Almost Everything" hint at vast landscapes. "Oaks" builds of the mood of that one, proffering a nine-minute closing anthem.
Craig Finn and Kubler pull off a dual-guitar setup ridiculously well ("Big Cig" rhythms, for example; "a really nice kind of lazy groove," Kubler says on the album's commentary track). And drummer Bobby Drake uses the percussive end of things to provide the Montana Sky openness of everything on the album.
Kubler's parting words when we last chatted? "I'm just thankful that we play in a rock band and we're making our sixth record and I'm still alive." Likewise, good sir.
Let's wrap up this week with a burst of one- or two-sentence music reviews, OK?
Liars - Mess: Meh. Cue up Drum's Not Dead if you're really in the mood for post-punk weirdness.
Future Islands - Singles: Reserve this for your weekend of bar-hopping madness and you'll be in good shape.
Owls - Two: I hadn't listened to them since 2001's self-titled outing. Their riffy sounds holds up, and this one is a keeper.
Animals as Leaders - The Joy of Motion: If you've been a longtime fan, you'll dig it. To the uninitiated: Check out their really interesting prog-metal vibe. "Lippincott" is awesome.
The Baseball Project - 3rd: The album never really reaches an overly enjoyable energy. They're sorta building off the sounds of their previous two albums, so if you're into those...
Boy George - This Is What I Do: There's not a whole lot to say about this one, except, uh, feel free to skip it, unless you're a die-hard. The colorful singer returns with an album that reflects on his past and present.