Record Review - 2 June 10 2004

Heeding Lou Barlow's call a decade or so late, the Hold Steady gives up the indie rock like it's 1992 all over again. As the former frontman of much-beloved but terminally underachieving art-punk clatterers Lifter Puller, Craig Finn indulged his obsession with plaid-clad slacker anthems. Despite the move from Minneapolis to the bustling environs of NYC, his fascination with the presumed-dead genre continues on his new outfit's debut. The relentless scavenging of the indie rock canon on Almost Killed Me — from sing-speak Fall-isms, (Built to Spill's Doug) Martsch-esque guitar solos, and Dinosaur Jr. liner-note scrawl — should amount to little more than an embarrassing display of obeisance.

But credit Finn's smarmy wit with rescuing the album from the typical indie trappings. On "The Swish," Finn casually namedrops Elisabeth Shue and Robbie Robertson in the space of a four-minute ode to summer hedonism on the L.A. strip without even so much as raising an eyebrow. Perhaps poking fun at the Lower East Side hipsters that attend his shows, Finn later observes, "Everyone's a critic and most people are DJs." With the Hold Steady, Finn appears to have stopped caring altogether, as opposed to merely sounding like he doesn't care — a marked improvement over the calculated sloppiness of Lifter Puller. Welcome to his version of the blockbuster summer.