Steel Train – Self-Titled

  • Cole Faulkner posted
  • Reviews

Steel Train

Self Titled - Terrible Thrills Records

Since Drive Thru Records went belly up a couple years back, New Jersey’s Steel Train has embraced their newfound status as free agents, and released their new, self-titled album via their very own Terrible Thrills Records.  Now, Steel Train has always been a creative force to be reckoned with, but after listening in for the better part of a month, I can safely say that the indie five-piece has gone from ambitious supporting act to gleaming main event.  It goes without saying; Steel Train is a career defining experience.

It seems that since their last release, TrampolineSteel Train has stumbled upon the secret to making thought provoking, commercially viable indie.  Usually indie acts fall into one of two camps: aligning themselves with the subtle obscurities of bands like She & Him, or blasting out catchy single worthy tunes as per The Killers or Bloc Party.  But occasionally we’re treated to works that blur this distinct divide.  Take Arcade Fire’s career defining masterpiece Funeral; at the time the influential band constructed a catchy, hook driven journey from a musical foundation originally viewed as temperamental and elitist.  Steel Train may not have the mechanical uniqueness of Arcade Fire, but that hasn’t prevented their ambitious third effect from coming cut from the same cloth.

Steel Train builds their indie rock sound around many of the minor, inconsequential instruments defining their low-key contemporaries.  One of the easiest comparisons can be found in the later work of the now defunct Straylight Run.  But where Staylight Run felt content existing in the shadows at dusty clubs, Steel Train feels destined for centre stage at sold out stadiums.  Just take album opener “Bullet.”  The track sweeps open with engulfing choral “ooohs,” bolstered by the commanding ting of tiny bells that most bands would relegate to minor affairs.  As the track progresses, frontman Jack Antonoff delivers his lines with an unsung passion, bringing to life memorable passages and the smart choral climax: “run run run like a devil in disguise/like a bullet in the night/we are the last generation of hope/and I wouldn’t mind if together we died alone.”  “Confessions Of An Independent Band” follows suit, and as its title suggests, the band goes a little crazy as they relish in their unrestrained vision.

But as the next track makes known, creative freedom also means the right to cool off.  “You And I Undercover” takes a more modest approach, crashing and calming between chorus and verse like sea waves in an inlet.  Against a backdrop of undulating backing vocals and fluttery chords, Antonoff achieves an emotional content connection suiting the track’s apologetic tone.

As the album continues, a variety of other influences take hold, continually shaping and reshaping Steel Train’s intent.  “You Are Dangerous” jolts along like a Tegan And Sara piece, “S.O.G. Burning In Hell” calls upon a lazy Caribbean spirit, “Behavior” channels a creamy vocal smoothness in line with Zox, and “Children Of The 90’s (I’m Not The Same)” brings to mind Arcade Fire if they amped up their set and really let loose.

Regardless of how you frame it, Steel Train has mastered the art of plunking down a self-titled album after eight years together and coming across as if it was their first.  Without question, Steel Train jettisons the group well above their peers and into an entirely new plain of existence.  Apparently the album will be released alongside a companion disc featuring high profile artists as tourmates Tegan & Sara, Dirty Projectors, and Holly Miranda covering all twelve tracks.   Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to that rendition, but if I was one of those artists, I’d been downright intimidated covering such a career defining work of art.  Watch for Steel Train to surface on many year-end lists.