#1- The Hold Steady- Boys And Girls In America
Big surprise, huh?
I listened to this album two times before I burned copies of it for all my roommates - and that was before a good copy even leaked to the internets. And then I structured a vacation to New York City around seeing these guys at Irving Plaza. And then I bought a copy just so I could turn it up loud in my car without losing any sound quality on that staccato guitar line that begins "Stuck Between Stations."
There probably isn't anything I can say about this album and/or band that hasn't been said yet, so I'll just say this: This record is so fun it's ridiculous. In an age when being earnest is a mortal sin in the "indie" world, these guys perfectly walk a line between the snivelling indie kids and suburban soccer moms that you didn't know existed. Is this band really serious when they put "First Night" on this album? Don't they know that "Southtown Girls" could easily be a Bruce Springsteen track? I can't like Bruce Springsteen! In it's own way, this album is surprisingly disconcerting for the listener. It's a constant battle to figure out when this band is being tongue-in-cheek and when they're not - until eventually you give up trying and just dance around in your underwear playing air guitar in a fit of childish joy.
There's no pretense here. There's nothing to struggle to understand. It's, hands down, the most "simple" album on my Top Ten. But sometimes things just sound right - speaking to something we miss in ourselves or are struggling with. As I look out over my future of turning 23, graduating college, figuring out where to live and moving into a career, I realize I am in the "twilight of my youth." I'm reaching the point where it is no longer socially acceptable to have the crazy, youthful shenanigans that the characters in lead singer Craig Finn's have.
Luckily I'll have this band, and this album in particular, to remind me of what it feels like to be young, dumb and living for the moment. Finn's characters embrace that youthful zest, living lives of debauchery that, while being much worse than anything I did when I was young, make me nostalgic for the times when I let loose and enjoyed simply being alive.
In a year when TV On The Radio made us feel like we were in the year 2050 and Joanna Newsom made us feel like we were in Narnia, The Hold Steady made us feel like we were 12 years old and had just pulled out our father's record collection and discovered that ageless, unifying force they call Rock N' Roll. Buy this, knock back a few and see what happens - you won't regret it.