Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steel Train album review

Steel Train
Steel Train
(Terrible Thrills)
Grade: A

Gaslight Anthem isn’t the only exhilarating band waving the alt-rock flag for New Jersey these days. Hot on its heels is Steel Train, whose impressive, classic rock-leaning 2007 effort Trampoline got buried under Drive Thru Records’ punk/pop heavy roster.

After an extended period spent extricating themselves from the label, the quintet started their own. With Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald (Imperial Teen) at the studio helm of this outstanding third album, these guys definitely sound like they have something to prove.

Anthemic opener “Bullet” charges forth urgently and elastic voiced Jack Antonoff sings “we are the last generation of hope/and I wouldn’t mind if together we died alone” with conviction (fist pumping is a necessity). A similar sense of dramatic uplift envelops the slow building, emotional “You and I Undercover,” driven by reverb drenched guitars. “S.O.G. Burning in Hell” boasts tribal drums and manic, intense instrumentation.

Frequent cello and violin accents give several songs an Arcade Fire vibe. R&B jokester Har Mar Superstar (!) guests on drums and backing vocals; Antonoff’s fashion designer sister Rachel, the cover model laying in his cluttered teenage bedroom, also lends her pipes in a few places.

Keyboardist Justin Huey’s frantic playing dominates throughout, while lead guitarist Daniel Silbert unveils Queen-like leads at perfect junctures (the quirky Modest Mouse-styled “Turnpike Ghost,” “Soldier in the Army”). There’s even a punkish nod to the Ramones (“Speedway Motor Racers Club”). Definitely an album of the year contender.

Note: Steel Train also commissioned a companion collection featuring all the songs sung by female musicians like Tegan & Sara, Scarlett Johannson (she dated Antonoff in high school), members of Dresden Dolls, Dirty Projectors, That Dog, the Go-Go’s and others.

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