Only your first tattoo has to mean something / you can get something dumb to fill the rest in / it’s only skin

To Franz Nicolay, the Dependable!

Dependability, consistency, reliability aren’t always the sexiest qualities of songwriters. I can recall only one tune from the heard of Justin Townes Earle’s last three albums, but I couldn’t say those aren’t consistently fine albums. However, when it comes to Franz Nicolay albums, his dependability carries tons of excitement. I depend on him to try something new, to not phone it in, to collaborate with awesome people, and if all else fails, to write the ever-loving shit out of every single song. There’s only a few artists like that at a given time. Neko Case. Jeff Rosenstock. Blake Schwarzenbach. They’re only going to put out an album if they have something to say or a new way to say it. It’ll be challenging, it’ll be rewarding.

To Us, The Beautiful!, which is official studio album 4-and-a-half or something, fulfills my lofty expectations. The rap on this one seems to be that it’s more straightforward than 2012’s Do the Struggle. That’s true to an extent. Even without the noise interludes of Do the Struggle, To Us survives less on banjo and accordion and more on guitars. He’s recorded guitar rockers since the beginning–the first song on the first LP, “Jeff Penalty,” “Rock, Rinse, Repeat,” etc.–but the album’s worth of them is a great addition to the discography.

It’s not necessarily a themed record like Do the Struggle or Luck & Courage. Though the instrumentation is streamlined, the lyrics are as acrobatic and acerbic as ever. He’s a versatile lyricist. He’s a “literary” writer–which just means he uses things like wit and interesting images and history–but that style can lead to poetic heaps of word overload like early Decemberists or Bruce Springsteen songs (which I love). Nicolay has covered Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma,” a song my calloused ear considers a prime sinner of overindulgent bullshit lyrics. But Nicolay’s lyrics are teeming with fun and sense, too active to be oppressive. He tells us not to trust sweeping generalizations, but his own are always so good. Most people have a price / I’ve got mine / But the stars in their eyes are for the uniform, not the pilot inside, he sings on “The Pilot Inside.” He speaks often in “we”s and “our”s, but his “I”s are as compelling, as in “Bring Me a Mirror”:

I know we should lead with the truth
But I’d say anything just to please you.
When you’re like this, I know
No one looks upon your face and lives
So give me a mirror that I might still see you.

He’s writing observations that are never platitudes, stories that are never retreads (not recent ones, at least), and simply making performative rock and roll that gets naked and rolls around in art.

And not that Nicolay’s awesome choruses have ever been obscured by verses, but they’re lifted up on this album. We’ve seen “Marfa Lights” coming for a long time (it’s part of the live set and it was recorded last year on a live album with English punk band The Cut-Ups) and its infectious chorus was already a minor legend in my brain before the album even came. It’s one of many. “Imperfect Rhyme” and “Jerusalem Against Athens” are two more enduring accomplishments.

As expected, Essential Listening. When Nicolay first defected from The Hold Steady, he claimed his solo project was a chance stretch himself as a performer, to see if he could entertain rooms of people with whatever he had at his disposal–which at the time was a rotation of unpopular acoustic instruments and charismatic banter. His shows were great then and they still are and he’s been an incredible recording artist the whole time, too, but as he amasses one badass album after another, it becomes more exciting to see what the heights of his writing and performing will be. He’s assembling a body of work to rival any songwriter I can think of, friends. If you haven’t started listening yet, correct yourself.

a song’s a waste of your time / if no one notices or minds

Marfa Lights

Imperfect Rhyme

Open With The Wrestlers

Digital from Bandcamp. US physical from the greatest folks ever, Silver Sprocket. UK physical from Xtra Mile. Nicolay’s Facebook and his well-kept website.



get a bottle of whiskey / get a bottle of gin / get dead-set on the death of old stories / get born again

A few months ago I wrote a post about artists who I remember fondly and wish were still gigging regularly. That Top-5 post was originally going to culminate with Emilyn Brodsky, the New York-based ukulele player and songwriter whose shows were always so funny and confusing and devastating. Her banter was hilarious; it was confusing to be confronted by a solo uke player who occupied the stage like there was an orchestra behind her every night; her lyrics were goddamn fucking sad and specific. She toured some around her 2008 album Emilyn Brodsky’s Greatest Tits, but after a while I stopped seeing her name on festival bills or anywhere. However, the day I was writing up that post was the day I happened to see Franz Nicolay announce that the new Emilyn Brodsky record he’d produced was coming out in the fall. That was about as many good factors as can be combined into one new piece of information. Brodsky earns my eternal interest and Nicolay my total confidence, so it is no surprise, but a great pleasure, to confirm that this record is Essential Listening.

Since I’m on the subject of the Brodsky/Nicolay partnership (which was also featured on the Nicolay-produced Brodsky/Mirah split 7″ from years ago and on Nicolay’s 2012 album, in the duet “Take No Prisoners”), I’ll start with my favorite collaborative moment on the album–the accordion on “Born Again,” which partners with a galloping drumbeat to breathe a Hold Steady-ish pace into the song. That’s a formidable motherfucking song. It leads right into “Someone Belongs Here,” the anthemic sort-of-single of the album, which premiered on an episode of Girls. A sharp line in that song goes: “You’re the taker, I’m the giver /
Take my sex but leave my liver.”

I also want to pause to mention how much I enjoy the album title and cover art. It’s hard to keep focus because listening to this is an overwhelming, exciting experience. There are so many things to commend. For instance, there’s also this line from “In the Wash:” “Sometimes the self you know / is not the one with whom your love is intimate.” I’m all for unfocused reviews but I don’t want it to keep diverting my attempts to celebrate Brodsky’s songwriting. The Paul Simon-descended “Only Living Boy” is a verbose monster of a song that by all means shouldn’t work, but it’s so great at sewing and reaping tension that it’s insanely listenable. A line like, “Falling in love is giving up on someone new / Tonight I’m full of nothing and this is the best I can do,” snowballs into debaucherous descriptions of the narrator’s night that demand a major performance from Brodsky. She sings the shit out it. Nicolay’s experience building lush sounds around dense lyrics and keeping from interfering/competing with each other probably has a little do with this album’s similar success. The atmosphere is as sense-rich as the album art.

Through story songs or ones that appear more directly confessional, coming from her awesome collaborators or her heart-height ukulele, this record is all Brodsky’s storytelling. It’s crafted around answering machine messages from family and friends, and it goes for the question of really “reaching” the person you’re calling. There’s stories and messages that circle around what might have put six full years between her albums. There’s stories about emerging from shitty cycles, too. Ultimately, the thing stands on the side of joy and gratitude, ending with “Good Days,” a coda that’s sweet but far from candy-coated. The end makes similar moves to Lenny Lashley’s “Re-Covering” from last year’s Illuminator, another album that roars back from difficult times. It also reminds me of Kate Nash’s awesome Girl Talk, and Cory Branan’s No-Hit Wonder–all albums that are clear and confident and feel like a meaningful culmination of the artist’s work.

Born Again

Someone Belongs Here

Only Living Boy

Go stream and buy and gorge yourself on Eats Her Feelings at Brodsky’s bandcamp. Visit her re-energized website (try the dial-a-Brodsky feature! I don’t know what it does!) and follow her on Facebook. (Branan’s playing her record release show in Manhattan on October 1 with Franz Nicolay, so check that out if you’re there.)


I used to host an internet radio show in Gainesville–and since I’ve moved away I’ve missed doing that very much. Podcasting on your own turns out to be much harder than working with all the great equipment and coworkers at GrowRadio. So, I ask for your patience and hope for your interest in hearing me try to resume something that gives me great joy–compiling songs and stories. Let me know what you think, what works, what could be worked on. It’s a demo-heavy setlist from all over the last half-century and as Paul Westerberg says, it “rocks like murder.”

Track Listing:

  1. Introductions and Congratulations
  2. Bob Dylan & the Band – Banks of the Royal Canal (aka The Auld Triangle) (The Genuine Basement Tapes, Vol. 5) 1967
  3. Silkworm – The Old You (Italian Platinum) 2002
  4. Darkbuster (Lenny Lashley) – Cheap Wine (22 Songs That You’ll Never Want to Hear Again) 1999
  5. Bob Seger – Fire Lake (Against the Wind) 1980
  6. Talk about the Eagles
  7. The Silver Jews – Self-Ignition (Living Bridge Comp.) 2008
  8. Patsy Cline – Strange (Sentimentally Yours) 1961
  9. Gun Outfit – Another Human Being (Hard Coming Down) 2013
  10. Filthy Liars – Shot in the Dark (HFX Demo) 2013
  11. The Haints (Kepi Ghoulie) – Battle of Wounded Heart (Battle of Wounded Heart) 2007
  12. Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves – Never Have Time (Canyons) 2012
  13. Talk about LA Guns
  14. The Gun Club – Texas Serenade (Miami) 1982
  15. The Veronica Cartwrights – Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt (Broken Keys Comp.) 1997
  16. Bobby Charles – I Hope (The Jewel And Paula Recordings 1964-1965)
  17. Tony Flaminio – Bad Luck Song (The Grim Repair) 2012
  18. Animal City – Red Ice Cream, pt. 1 (Red Ice Cream) 2010
  19. Spider Bags – Waking Up Drunk (A Celebration of Hunger) 2007
  20. Talk about eating out hearts
  21. The Deadly Snakes – Oh, Lord, My Heart (Porcella) 2005
  22. Gravel – Yesterday (Yesterday 7″) 1991
  23. Crooked Fingers (Eric Bachmann) – New Drink for the Old Drunk (Crooked Fingers) 2000
  24. Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – The Poacher – (Anymore for Anymore) 1974
  25. Franz Nicolay – Talk to Him in Shallow Water (Winter Demos) 2013
  26. Talk about the Crutchfield Takeover
  27. King Everything (Katie Crutchfield) – Now and Then (Demo II) 2009

Download this episode (right click and save)


There were so many good albums this year that I couldn’t make the decision to rank them, and I know that’s not the most important decision anyway, so this year’s best-of list is in groups with no internal order. This is the art I spent my cherished/wasted time consuming this year. Hope everybody’s upcoming year is full of growth.

Albums, Best of the Best:

Albums, Rest of the Best:

EPs, 7″s, Demos:

Reissues, Lost Albums

  • Tony FlaminioThe Grim Repair – from the head of the Failures’ Union, reissue of 2003 cd-R
  • Karen Dalton – 1966 – haunting voice and banjo recorded over porches and kitchen tables at her cabin in Boulder CO
  • Michael Hurley – Back Home with Drifting Woods – unreleased 1964 sessions from the freak folker and gorgeous yodeler
  • Jawbreaker – Bivouac – the glory

  • Padgett Powell – You & Me – nothing has to be as shitty as everything is; read this for energy
Reasons to Stay Alive Next Year
  • Drag the River, Lenny Lashley, Billy Bragg, Sebadoh,Tin Armor, and Failures’ Union full-lengths. Freakwater playing shows again.
Stay free,


OSTROV's TOP 10 OF '11

Top 10 Albums:

25. J. Mascis – Several Shades of Why

24. Ruby Coast – Whatever This Is: They made their first EPs while still in high school, but their first LP is mature, polished, and a blast to dance or drive to. (free music alert)

23. Algernon Cadwallader – Parrot Files: Rips off Cap’n Jazz the way Colossal ripped off American Football. The first midwestern emo analogy on ninebullets? I dunno.

22. Tin Armor – Life of Abundance: Smiths meets Big Star, a gorgeous and fun album that fans of Frank Turner will love.

Tin Armor – Plain Limbs

21. Bomb the Music Industry! – Vacation: How do you like your Brian Wilson worship–from tip-toeing nerds like Animal Collective or from the endlessly savvy band geeks of BTMI who actually have something to say? (free music alert).

20. Elway – Delusions: Rock from Fort Collins CO, think Arliss Nancy played for punx in basements instead of drunx in bars.

19. The Underground Railroad to Candyland – Knows Your Sins: Horrible band name, amazing sound. What a “teenage symphony to god” sounds like these days.

18. The Decemberists – The King is Dead: Without changing all that much, they expanded their appeal to a whole different kind of pretentious people. Those swayed by this album, check out Meloy’s flawed-but-lovely college country band, Tarkio.

17. Tommy Stinson – One Man Mutiny

16. Austin Lucas – A New Home In the Old World

Austin Lucas – Darkness Out Of Me

15. Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground

Chuck Ragan – Wish On The Moon

14. Joey Cape’s Bad Loud – S/T Demo

13. Sharks – The Joys of Living 2008-2010: They’ve toured with Ragan. For fans of Gaslight, Social D, Psychedelic Furs.

12. Jon Snodgrass & Friends – Tri-State Record, or Five-State Record, depending on where you live or how much you like imports

Jon Snodgrass & Friends – Campaign

11. Josh Small – Josh Small’s Juke

Josh Small – Everyone’s Daughter

10. Laura Stevenson & the Cans – Sit Resist: Brilliant pop that swings between indie and roots rock. Glorious voice.

9. Matt Woods – The Matt Woods Manifesto: A better album than Steve Earle’s.

Matt Woods – Port St. Lucie

8. Shane Sweeney – Shane Sweeney – The Finding Time

Some Hope, Somewhere

7. Guy Clark – Songs and Stories (Live): Document of how great his recent songs really are. How does a band still have this much fun 30 years into the game, after they’ve already mastered it? This could be what Lucero sounds like in 20.

6. One Hundred Dollars – Songs of Man

5. Wild Flag – Wild Flag: Two of the best guitarists in the world and, by far, the best drummer.

Wild Flag – Something Came Over Me

4. P.S. Eliot – Sadie: Alabama lo-fi college rock. They’ll be broken up by the time you read this. Seriously. I’m sad. (free music alert)

3. State Champion – Deep Shit

State Champion – Bottom Of The Bleak

2. Madeline – Black Velvet

1. Glossary – Long Live All of Us

Top 10 Lyrics:

8. “This is why we fight, this is why we lie awake…” ~ Colin Meloy/The Decemberists, “Why We Fight“: Because he didn’t finish the line with “at night.” The whole album is a textbook on restraint, which is so much more exhilarating than excess.

7. “My sister lost a friend over something like an invitation.” ~ State Champion, “Old Green Room”

6. “My heart aches, but only on the third beat.” ~ Madeline, “Hurry Up, Pronto

5. “Like a Roman, you lived it.” ~ Jon Snodgrass, “Weighing in on St. Michael“: Simple and beautiful and never sung before.

4. “Never trust a hotel clock!” ~ Joey Cape, “Montreal“: That’s how you make a road song relatable. Take note, touring bands writing only about touring.

3. “I know your pain and share your pain, let’s have soup together.” ~ The Pack a.d., “8

The Pack AD – 8

2. “If there’s two things that I hate, it’s having to cook and trying to date. Busting ass all day to play hurry-up and wait.” ~ Jason Isbell, “Codeine“: A response to the Pack a.d. line.

Jason Isbell – Codeine

1. “I cannot even do one sit-up, sit-ups are so bourgeoisie.” ~ Stephen Malkmus, “No One Is (As I Are Be)

Top 10 Daytrotter Sessions (pony up):

5. Cheap Girls

4. Naughty By Nature

3. Sharks

2. Frank Turner

1. Caitlin Rose

Top 10 Books (that I haven’t read yet):

3. Diane Keaton – Then Again

2. Bob Mould – See A Little Light

1. Chris Bachelder – Abbot Awaits

Top 10 Web-Comic Strips (of the handful that I follow):

2. Liz Prince – Alone Forever #42:Aloneth Forever

1. Mitch Clem – Nothing Nice to Say #450: “Jaded Asshole!

♥. Liz Prince – “I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye

Top 10 Guitar Hooks:

1. Oh No Oh My – “Again Again

Top 10 Things Ever:

1. Drag the River name-your-own-price digital store. Finally hearing the b-side of the out-of-print Gabba Gabba Hey Buddies!

Top 10 Things Coming Next Year:

8. New albums from Gaslight Anthem, Cheap Girls, Sharks, Menzingers, Hot Water Music, Magnetic Fields, John K. Samson (of the Weakerthans), Teenage Bottlerocket….

7. The Promise Ring reunites and releases rarities album.

6. Tim Barry left Suburban Home, but if he had to go somewhere else, Chunksaah Records, run by The Bouncing Souls, is the sweetest destination. Barry’s first album on his new label is due next year. The Bouncing Souls themselves are going into the studio with Bill Stevenson and should have a record out in 2012, as well.

5. This year, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady shacked-up in Austin, listened to some Nick Lowe, saw Alejandro Escovedo live (a Texas rite), and recorded. So his solo album next year has a chance to be incredible or just the same.

Craig Finn – Rented Room

4. The DTR full-band album that was supposed to be built off the 2010 DEMOnS sessions?

3. The long-homeless Cory Branan album to “drrrrrop this Spring?”

2. Lucero – Women and Work

1. Franz Nicolay – Do the Struggle: Prepare for the next Sign ☮ the Times


Well, another week is in the books and my Florida State Seminoles still haven’t won a game against a Division 1A team. It’s times like these that whiskey and music were made for. This is what happened on this week:

  • We found another Ninebullets Kickstarter Project of the month worthy project in Franz Nicolay’s plight. Even if you don’t contribute to his kickstarter you should visit it and read the FAQ.
  • Did you know Waylon Jennings recorded a few songs with The Old 97’s? Neither did I but you can get one of those tracks for free on the new Southern Independent compilation.
  • Suburban Home is releasing the self-titled cd from Lenny and The Piss Poor Boys. We had an exclusive track that you probably better recognize from Drag The River.


The plan at the beginning of the year was to support one Kickstarter project a month. Then came unemployment threats and panic and I stopped doing it all together in April/May. Well, the job thing really hasn’t gotten any better but it hasn’t gotten any worse either so I’d been tossing the idea of picking up the process again when I came across Franz Nicolay’s kickstarter. On his kickstarter page is an amazing FAQ he penned that you should go read even if you don’t contribute to his plight. Well, in said FAQ he manages to capture the reason why I started doing the monthly kickstarter support thing to begin with and he does so with far more eloquence than I ever could:

“One of the things I’ve always liked about punk rock world is the idea that it’s a community, that the people who make the music are no different functionally than the people who consume it, that it’s a conversation, not a monologue. And part of being a community is having a stake in it, feeling a sense of responsibility toward keeping that community moving forward. If you don’t like my music, by all means don’t feel an obligation to contribute. But there is some other musician out there whose music you love, and could use your help. And if we can agree to support the idea of community-sourcing funding for projects from this, to Kevin Seconds’ tour van, to who knows what coming down the line, we’ll all have more music from the people whose work we love.”

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Franz’s music but after reading his Kickstarter page, I am a huge fan of the man and am more than happy to give him some of my money.

Watch this video for an amazing story about where the inspiration for the album’s title, Do The Struggle, comes from.


Heaven Is Whenever

I am not a The Hold Steady fanboy by any stretch of the imagination. To be honest the only album of theirs I play with any regularity is Separation Sunday. Boys and Girls in America was an alright album and I pull it out every once in a while, especially for Chillout Tent and Southtown Girls, but it just didn’t feel like a strong album. As far as Stay Positive is concerned I wasn’t impressed at all. I wasn’t looking forward to Heaven is Whenever and until I sat down to write about it I didn’t even know that Franz Nicolay had even left the band. Hell to be honest, as much as I love Separation Sunday, I couldn’t have told you any of the band members’ names before today so you won’t find me opining on how the sound has changed and how it may be better or worse. I won’t pick apart the music and try and say how it’s changed between Stay Positive and Heaven is Whenever other than to say that I think this is a much better album than the last. Simply put The Hold Steady now has two albums I consider Essential Listening and this one of them.

I don’t know what happened on this album. I saw the band taking a direction over the last three albums that I didn’t much care for and so I pretty much had written them off. Now that doesn’t mean that they weren’t making solid music but rather that the music they were making didn’t much appeal to me. When I got this one I pretty much thought I’d listen to it as it came up on random and that would be that but over a couple of weeks as the tracks popped up they caught my attention more and more so I pulled up the whole album and gave it a listen. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Wherever these kids were headed on Stay Positive they slammed on the brakes, drove back to Separation Sunday and started the whole goddamn trip over. Some albums have a few good songs, some have mostly good songs, and some feel like a single piece of completed work and Heaven is Whenever falls into the latter category. Nothing seems forced and it doesn’t feel like something got left out somewhere on the way to the studio. From the guitar to the bridges to the lyrics to the hand claps this is a solid album song to song. It might take time to grow on you but it’s their strongest release since Separation Sunday and should be Essential Listening even if only for the lyric “There was that whole weird thing with the horses; I think they know exactly what happened I don’t think it needs any explaining…” from The Weekenders which ranks right up there in my favorite lyrics with ” I guess I heard about original sin. I heard the dude blamed the chick. I heard the chick blamed the snake. I heard they were naked when they got busted.” As far as the band as a whole is concerned the jury is still out. I have never heard Almost Killed Me so right now they are at two really good albums, one passable, and one that I didn’t like. I won’t be writing off their next release before I hear it that’s for sure.

The Hold Steady – The Weekenders
The Hold Steady – Rock Problems
The Hold Steady – A Slight Discomfort

The Hold Steady – Official Website
The Hold Steady on Myspace