Franz Nicolay: Do the Struggle
I have good news and sad news: Franz Nicolay has a new album, but his mustache appears to be gone. Do the Struggle, which was released in August, is Nicolay’s third full-length solo album. Nicolay is a current or former member of The Hold Steady, Guignol, World/Inferno Friendship Society, and occasional touring member of Against Me! He’s got a lot of talented friends, many of which contributed to this record. In what seems like a strange combination, the album was produced by oktopus of the industrial/hip-hop duo dälek (who clearly don’t like capitalization.) I describe it as odd because you wouldn’t think a hip-hop artist would be the first choice to produce this album, though it does have a few hints of ambient and industrial sounds. The one song where the influence seems most prevalent is “Joy,” a clunky song with a distorted tuba and thundering drums that brings to mind elephants walking around. It has a more industrial, produced sound that doesn’t really fit with the others. Otherwise, the interludes are pretty industrial.
Between each song is a numbered ambient interlude. The sounds are kind of jarring and they had little connection to the full songs. They supply some continuity because there is a similar sound in each one, but they have little or nothing to do with the songs. I would have preferred the interludes be left out. Nicolay is clearly talented and the songs are great, but I can’t get over these tracks with the numbered titles. While I highly recommend the album, I also recommend that you skip those ambient interludes. They’re the only thing holding me back from giving this album a higher rating; without them, I probably given the album a rating of nine out of ten.
As anyone can tell you, I’ve long advocated for banjos. Plenty of the songs are given a twangy sound thanks to a banjo. A plucky banjo, festive fiddles, handclaps, Nicolay’s accordian, and quick drums make “The Hearts of Boston” sound like it came from a cross between The Pogues, Great Big Sea, and The Dropkick Murphys. “You Don’t Know I’m Here” also has the quick, plucky banjo sound I so love featured prominently; has a country twang. There isn’t one weak song on the album.
The lyrics are great, Nicolay is a wordsmith. Each song sets a scene and tells a story. Some lyrics will get you thinking, like the opening lines to “Frankie Stubbs’ Tears”: “trees are cannibals, they eat their own, turn the hearts of oak and bark to loam.” “Take No Prisoners,” which features Emilyn Brodsky on lead vocals, also has some great lines.