Franz Nicolay

Luck And Courage


There aren't too many rules for being a decent singer-songwriter, but here's one: Your voice has to be compelling. It doesn't have to begood, exactly, but it does have to hook ears and serve as some sort of sympathetic vehicle for lyrics and melody. On that level, Luck And Courage—the second full-length by former Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay—falls short. As with its predecessor Major General (and last year's St. Sebastian of the Short Stage EP), Luck & Courage wanders through a dark, tangled, intermittently gorgeous landscape filled with wounded hearts and symphonic folk-rock. But as guides go, Nicolay's voice is less than trustworthy. Calling it nondescript is giving it too much credit; Nicolay's wordy, labored, over-enunciated clutter is often aggressively dull, as on the otherwise poignant "Anchorage (New Moon Baby)."

To Nicolay's credit, his vivid lyrics and sweeping arrangements are able to conjure a simultaneously haunted and earthy atmosphere. For instance, "This Is Not A Pipe" takes René Magritte's transgressive The Treachery Of Images and uses it as a jumping-off point for a smoldering, slide-guitar-lubricated meditation on self-denial and self-loathing. But even at his strongest, Nicolay lays on the speak-singing so thickly, you'd think his former bandmate Craig Finn had been influenced by Nicolay and not the other way around. Despite his tenures in the Hold Steady and the underappreciated art-punk collective the World/Inferno Friendship Society, Nicolay is still well-known as an inspired hired gun for everyone from the Dresden Dolls to Against Me!—and Luck And Courage doesn't do much to dispel the idea that the gifted multi-instrumentalist makes a better sideman than he does a frontman.

Team Science

"This Is Not A Pipe"