Craig Finn's Solo Project Delivers Americana In Abundance
Like many, my first exposure to Craig Finn’s speak-sing cadence was The Hold Steady’s breakthrough album, 'Separation Sunday'. Finn positively chewed on his words before spitting them out to spin yarns about lowlifes and their adventures in and around Minneapolis. As The Hold Steady's palette grew beyond bar rock and into country and folk tinged ballads, the advantages of a Craig Finn solo project grew dimmer.
What, exactly, would a solo project offer that another Hold Steady record couldn't? 'Faith in the Future' displays Americana leaning instrumentals and a sharper focus on lyrics, but the line between The Hold Steady and Finn's solo efforts is still blurred.
'Faith in the Future' is at its best when the music distinguishes itself with some idiosyncratic decision. "Roman Guitars" has its crashing splat snare hits, "Going to a Show" has some fun providing backing vocals to a chorus about being alone, and an electronic dribble is the calm before the storm as "Trapper Avenue" turns anthemic. Mostly, however, the music is a mere garnish for Finn's lyrics, pleasantly getting out of the way when necessary. That's a small gripe to make; given Finn is a gifted storyteller with an odd way with words.
Finn sounds perfectly at home riffing about murderous kids at a car wash and getting your fingers cut off before you can pull a trigger. Violence, both physical and emotional, is a topic much explored on this record. It's a topic that is both attention grabbing and all too relevant, demanding to be handled with able hands. Finn loses his grip every now and then, tipping his intentions a little too far and working with strokes much too broad. On "Sarah, Calling from a Hotel," the lyrics paint a perfectly oblique picture before the introduction of a gun near the end, which ups the stakes, but deflates the atmosphere.
Finn is still obsessed with location, with Scranton and Memphis getting several shout outs. The locations are as explicit to the characters as are their actions and motivations. Much like John Cheever's short story portraits, it would be easy to see these people living in the same zip code, passing each other frequently. Though there aren't any explicit references to these characters interacting, they often suffer from the same malaise and doubt. Whether it’s with The Hold Steady or not, these vague connections are what elevate Finn’s keen, observational lyrics.
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Words by Keenan Novi