A Really Cool Kisser
The Hold Steady don't really sound like Bruce Springsteen. The Brooklyn band does have a straight-up classic rock vibe, but it's filtered through indie rock and post-punk (singer Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler were in the Minneapolis cult band Lifter Puller in the 1990s). What the Hold Steady share most clearly with Springsteen, especially from his work in the mid-'70s, is bombast. Finn sketches tales of seedy, druggy decline followed by redemption and illustrated with religious imagery, and the band behind him churns out big arena-rock gestures—dramatic pauses, guitar solos, organ fills. Finn declaims more than he sings, and has a gift for powerful, deflating couplets ("She was a really cool kisser and she wasn't that strict of a Christian/She was a damn good dancer but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend," from "Stuck Between Stations" on their 2006 album Boys and Girls in America). There's barely a trace of irony or bitterness; for all the squalor Finn documents, the band's music is resolutely optimistic. (Matthew Everett)
The Next Big Thing
When they first popped up in 2003, the Kings of Leon were dressed in tight bell-bottoms and leather jackets, wearing Burt Reynolds-sunglasses and John Bonham-mustaches. The West Tennessee band—two brothers, a cousin, and one of their childhood friends—had recently been liberated from an itinerant Pentecostal upbringing, the story went, and they were looking to kick loose some Southern-fried jams. That didn't get them very far—they were a Next Big Thing in U.K. music magazines for a while but failed to sell many copies of their roots-rock debut, Youth and Young Manhood. By the time they released a second record, Aha Shake Heartbreak, they were stretching from boogie toward pop and tight psychedelia and started earning comparisons to The Strokes. (They got haircuts and new clothes, too.) On their third album, Because of the Times, released in February, the band reinvents itself again, this time as an art-rock group. Long, droning guitar lines have replaced the hooks, and singer Caleb Followill alternates between shrieking over feedback and wailing dramatically on top of third-hand Gang of Four imitations. Some of it's dopey and some of it's dull, but it works: Because of the Times has been the band's best-selling album so far. (M.E.)
Dark and Dreamy
Hailing from Los Angeles, Cal., Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fuse British shoegazer music and psychedelia with their own stylized appropriations from American folk and blues. The result is dark and dreamy and beguiling music—sometimes rocking and sometimes ruminative—that recalls the best moments of Jesus and Mary Chain and Love and Rockets and a dozen or so British psych/alt-rock outfits who couldn't stay sober long enough to produce more than an album's worth of respectable songs. (Anyone remember the Stone Roses?) Thankfully, BRMC have already produced four fine albums since 2001, despite the drug-related hiatus taken by drummer Nick Jago around the recording of 2005's mostly acoustic country-blues- and gospel-influenced effort Howl. Don't miss their '07 release Baby 81 on RCA, arguably the band's strongest since their stellar debut. (Mike Gibson)
They Formed a Band!
Easy to dismiss as just one more entry in the British post-punk revival sweepstakes, Art Brut is pretty slavishly devoted to resuscitating the skeletal arrangements, stadium-chant vocals, and skewed white funk of the early 1980s, just like Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, and Bloc Party. But Art Brut's first single, "Formed a Band," released in 2004 and included on their 2005 album Bang Bang Rock and Roll, was a furious, frenzied, three-minute guitar-pop manifesto: "Formed a band/We formed a band/Look at us, we formed a band." (M.E.)