Here we are on the 11th of January already and this is my first review of the New Year, clearly I have been slacking! As is my wont when asked to review an album, I downloaded this onto my iPod and went off to walk the dogs. I like to give albums my undivided attention, especially when it is an artist that I am not familiar with.
I wasn’t familiar with Franz Nicolay, actually ‘unfamiliar’ would be something of an exaggeration, I hadn’t heard of Franz Nicolay. Hearing the name you imagine eastern European folk music , perhaps with a gypsy feel. Wrong! Franz may well be from Eastern European stock but he is from Brooklyn. The links with gypsy music are not so far off the mark though as Franz has played with New York gypsy-punks Guignol. He has also recorded with the likes of Frank Turner and the Dresden Dolls and with this album being released on the same label, Xtra Mile Recordings, as Frank the signs were looking good.
What is clear from the outset is that Nicolay draws from a pretty broad church. The opening and title track is a guitar driven punk tune which takes its title from a rather lucid Ukrainian toast – “To us the beautiful, and to those who disagree, may their eyes fall out.” Its a hook laden and joyful song though there is just a hint of darkness in the lyrics. It reminded me a little of Counting Crows “Mr Jones” in places. The catchy, energetic guitar , laden feel continues throughout the album. It is instantly enjoyable and feels familiar with guitar driven tunes dominant but as you might expect from a multi-instrumentalist this album is far from a one trick pony. A wide range of influences are apparent.
The hooks in “Imperfect” reminded me of an old song called “My Favourite Waste of Time” and that song hits you with one of the best lines on the whole album, “If we are the company we keep, I must be stupid and cheap”. Shallow Water” has an interesting banjo-picked melody line and is one of the quieter more introspective songs and stands out against the backdrop of energetic guitar driven rock songs.
Amazingly, “To Us, The Beautiful” was put together in less than a week and features Andrew Seward of Against Me! on bass, Ara Babajian of Leftover Crack on drums, the NYC guitarist Yoni Gordon, you would never guess this from listening to an album filled with great songs, elegant melodies and lovely riffs. This is however a process unlikely to be repeated, Nicolay said: “If I make another record, it probably won’t be anything like this.”
This is a beautifully produced, lyrically interesting and enjoyable piece of guitar driven rock music. There is a sense of freedom in the delivery and it all fits together superbly as a coherent piece of music. Every track brings it’s own reward and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending that you buy it when it is released in the UK on Xtra Mile Recordings next Monday, 19th January 2015.