The Hold Steady — „Open Door Policy“ (February 19, 2021)
⇔ Our 8th studio record Open Door Policy is out now via Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers, and we are thrilled to be sharing it with you. This is the second LP to feature this six piece lineup of THS. It was produced by the amazing Josh Kaufman, a beautiful human who brought huge amounts of creativity and fun to the sessions. The other half of that dream team is our pal D. James Goodwin, who skillfully engineered and mixed the record. We are immensely thankful to both. Stuart Bogie, Jordan McLean, and Ray Mason play horns throughout out the record and bring such a cool dimension. Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins (“The Creeps”) brought their incredible voices to the backup vocals. Matt Barrick helped with percussion on a song. Our longtime friend Dave Gardner mastered. The cover photos were sourced from Dave McLaughlin (front) and Kelly Shee (back). Vance Wellenstein did the album artwork and Nick Hollomon added some illustration detail. Lastly, much appreciation to Thirty Tigers for being the engine behind all of it. Gratitude to all, we are very proud to put it out into the world today.
Location: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Album release: February 19, 2021
✹ Clubhouse, Rhinebeck NY
Record Label: Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers
01. The Feelers 4:46
02. Spices 3:46
03. Lanyards 3:54
04. Family Farm 3:43
05. Unpleasant Breakfast 4:59
06. Heavy Covenant 4:40
07. The Prior Proceedure 3:38
08. Riptown 3:23
09. Me & Magdalena 3:48
10. Hanover Camera 3:58
The Hold Steady: Bobby Drake, Craig Finn, Tad Kubler, Franz Nicolay, Galen Polivka, Steve Selvidge
⇔ Horns: Stuart Bogie, Ray Mason & Jordan McLean
⇔ Background Vocals: Annie Nero & Cassandra Jenkins
⇔ Percussion: Matt Barrick
⇔ Produced by Josh Kaufman
⇔ Recorded by D. James Goodwin Recorded at the Clubhouse, Rhinebeck NY
⇔ Mixed by D. James Goodwin at The Isokon
⇔ Additional recording at The Isokon
⇔ Mastered by Dave Gardner at Infrasonic
⇔ Cover photo by Dave McLaughlin
⇔ Back cover photo by Kelly Shee
⇔ Sleeve photo by Pete Deevakul
⇔ Animal art by Nick Hollomon
⇔ Design by Vance Wellenstein
• All Songs © 2020
• Muy Interesante Music (ASCAP)
• Key Hits (ASCAP)
• Eggshell Armor Music (ASCAP)
• Sounds Like Selvidge (BMI)
⇔ Management: Dave Gottlieb at Death or Glory LLC
US Booking: Larry Webman at Paradigm
Rest of World Booking: Steve Strange & Josh Javor at X~ray Touring
US Publicity: Ken Weinstein at Big Hassle
UK Publicity: Jay Taylor at Prescription PR
Digital Media Management: Brendan Hilliard at Juicebox Industries
Legal: George Regis Esq.
By Eric R. Danton|Feb. 18, 2021| Score: 8.1
⇔ Craig Finn has said that the difference between his solo material and The Hold Steady’s songs is often one of scale. With The Hold Steady, Finn seeks big subjects to match the big riffs, while his quieter solo material can focus on smaller moments. If that distinction held true at first, the lines get pretty blurry on the band’s new album.
There are still riffs aplenty, and big subjects, on Open Door Policy, but these 10 new songs mix them in among more textured arrangements and understated details reminiscent of Finn’s four solo albums. The convergence of Finn’s solo sensibility with The Hold Steady’s was probably inevitable: As Finn has become more nuanced in his storytelling, his songs sometimes benefit from a subtler approach. Of course, “subtle” is a relative term for a band whose identity is rooted in adrenalizing guitar riffs and caustic lyrics about ne’er~do~wells doing what they do best.
⇔ Finn seems to have retired the recurring characters who populated the band’s early albums, but the people in his songs on Open Door Policy are still scheming and still falling short, held down by the weight of their own faulty preconceptions. Yet for all his subjects’ self~destructive impulses, Finn mostly manages to make them at least a little bit sympathetic: They’ve made their beds, sure, but you still hope they have sense enough not to get in and pull up the covers. Good sense tends to be in short supply in The Hold Steady’s songs, where street smarts are a more valuable commodity for the shady pursuits occupying these characters. Finn’s protagonists are always playing the angles, whether it’s the aspiring actor “trying to make moves” on “Lanyards,” the woman who falls for a junkie singer on “Me & Magdalena” or the software salesman indulging his vices on the road on “Heavy Covenant.”
⇔ Beneath the surface~level details of money, fame or a high, all of these characters are after one thing: status. It’s a running theme on Open Door Policy, often with an undercurrent of mordant wit. That software salesman, for example, pitches his products to “hospitals and local governments” to increase their efficiency. “It’s a pretty heavy covenant,” Finn sings, a deadpan skewering of a protagonist trying to make himself believe he’s a crucial cog, even as he scrolls through Tinder and palms musicians money for drugs.
⇔ Finn’s richly descriptive lyrics come accompanied by The Hold Steady’s most musically expansive arrangements so far. From the start, Tad Kubler’s powered~up riffs defined the band’s sound, and Steve Selvidge was a potent addition when he joined as a second (or third, if you count Finn) guitarist in 2010, after keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the group. Nicolay rejoined in 2016, rejuvenating The Hold Steady’s sound and helping to make their 2019 album Thrashing Thru the Passion a return to form that was all the more pleasurable for being unexpected.
⇔ Open Door Policy is unexpected, too, though for different reasons. Instead of relying on riffs, as the band’s past albums have tended to do, they’re deployed here with greater strategy. Guitars take the lead on “Family Farm,” blasting through the song with horns and piano swirling in their wake, and the effect is full~on vintage Hold Steady. Elsewhere, though, Kubler and Selvidge serve the songs in other ways. Opener “The Feelers” starts with somber piano, and the guitars augment the soulful, melancholy arrangement as the song builds, rather than dominating it. Credit goes to the rhythm section on “Heavy Covenant,” where drummer Bobby Drake and bassist Galen Polivka lock in on a sleek groove with room for growling power chords, keening synths and huge, glorious horn parts that propel the song through the choruses.
⇔ Drake anchors “Me & Magdalena,” too, steering the song through sections that showcase all the band’s strengths in one near~perfect package. There’s a sturdy, thumping beat, bursts of chaotic churning that erupt and recede, piano vamps and searing lead guitar, while Finn alternates between talk~ranting and singing a narrative packed with vivid specifics. The track is the most cohesive the latter~day Hold Steady lineup has sounded, and though Open Door Policy is so strong a record that there’s no one centerpiece, “Me & Magdalena” is definitely a highlight.
Maybe the most impressive thing about the band’s eighth album is how the group continues to push beyond its own boundaries. After a two~album stale patch a decade ago, The Hold Steady have rebounded to become more adventurous than they were before, and Finn’s storytelling has never been stronger.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine; Score: ★★★★