Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Teeth DreamsWashington Square/Razor & Tie 79301-83515-2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***


One of my friends dismisses the Hold Steady as “a kind of baroque Bruce Springsteen.” That’s probably why I like them. Early Bruce fans like me cherish his first two albums for their unabashed romanticism and long-form storytelling, and the Hold Steady must have listened to them as much as I have. They also appear to have been influenced by Graham Parker’s records with the Rumour. Parker, like all cynics, is at heart a disappointed romantic, but with the Rumour he buried his anger in snarling guitars and a great rock’n’roll voice.

Teeth Dreams is the Hold Steady’s sixth release, and you couldn’t ask for a better argument for overdriven guitars than the ones that begin this album. Bobby Drake’s lean drumming keeps things firmly grounded -- nothing fancy, just the backbeat the song needs. Galen Polivka’s bass lines are similarly straightforward and just as effective. While longtime fans might miss Franz Nicolay’s keyboards, the group’s current three-guitar lineup makes for a densely layered sound that creates an exciting backdrop for Craig Finn’s songs about urban life.

Finn’s lyrics seem less influenced by Springsteen than by the novels of Sol Yurick (The Warriors) or Irving Shulman (The Amboy Dukes). Finn’s gang in “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” sounds like something from the 1950s:

I heard the Cityscape Skins are kinda kicking it again
heard they finally got some discipline
running up the score
and stocking up like it’s World War Four

Finn’s descriptions of the occasional temptations of the city are more current, such as the “salted rims and frosted mugs” in “Spinners,” and throughout the songs there’s a sense that too much partying and too many late nights wear you down.

What makes the Hold Steady worth hearing are killer guitar riffs that lodge in the ear the way AC/DC’s do. “Big Cig” has ringing, sustained guitar chords and a terrific fuzz-bass line from Polivka. Controlled feedback helps move the song, but the recurring chord progression that opens the tune keeps bringing you back. At nine minutes, “Oaks” could have been too long by half, but the ballad has drama and a good sense of dynamics, along with a well-developed guitar solo by Tad Kubler and a throbbing, distorted rhythm guitar from Steve Selvidge. The tube amps sound like they’re about to blow apart -- as close to a tribute to Crazy Horse as any band has gotten.

Producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Rush) has given Teeth Dreams a dense, gloppy sound. Since the band favors a thick, packed approach anyway, Raskulinecz probably thought pushing everything forward would add to the excitement. But details get lost, and it’s fatiguing to listen to until you make your peace with it. This is by no means an audiophile recording.

In the many articles I’ve read about the Hold Steady, none has mentioned Graham Parker. Some Parker fans have noticed the connection, but younger critics seem unaware of Parker. To them and to the Hold Steady’s fans, I suggest picking up copies of Howlin’ Wind or Heat Treatment, both from 1976, or Squeezing Out Sparks, from 1979. Prepare to be slayed.

. . . Joseph Taylor