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'Heaven is Whenever,' The Hold Steady 

Even with loss of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the Hold Steady keeps things together.

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There’s no mistaking it: The departure of Franz Nicolay, keyboardist and moustachioed rake, has left a palpable hole in the Hold Steady’s lineup. But Craig Finn and company are determined to soldier on, though their latest effort is darker and less exuberant due to Nicolay’s absence. In certain respects, it’s a throwback to their earliest efforts. Gone are the grand Springsteen-esque anthems, replaced by a grittier hard-rock edge and a sinister, phantasmal sheen.

Admittedly, there are some duds (“The Smidge” comes to mind), but the band’s still doing what it does best. Tad Kubler’s guitar solos remain over-the-top and epic, worshipping long washed-up guitar idols. Finn’s recursive, meta-textual lyrics still cut through to the core of youthful abandon, full of girls and drugs and rock and roll. And the Hold Steady still, well, holds steady, just with a slightly loosened grip.

DOWNLOAD: “We Can Get Together”

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