The Hold Steady are well known for tossing hosannas to the Twin Cities’ landscape and music scene, past and present—from name-checking the “Grain Belt bridge” and Payne Avenue to sonic nods to all manner of local bands. Never mind that frontman Craig Finn, a native of Edina, decamped to Brooklyn some seven years ago—the Twin Towns (and their suburbs) remain a key inspiration. Of course, influences outside our city limits also filter into Finn’s songs: hints of Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen (OK, maybe not just hints) or Ohio’s Guided By Voices, not to mention shout-outs to dive bars and shopping malls stumbled across on countless and lengthy tours. So we asked Finn what he’s listening to these days, now that his geographical horizons are wide open.
1. “Enjoying Myself,” The 1990s
We are taking this band on our upcoming tour. Their live show backs up the claim of the song, that they like enjoying themselves. One line I particularly like: “I’m glad we had the party at your place.”
2. “Shirin,” Jens Lekman
I read a negative review of his new record that said Lekman was “condescending,” which might be true. But if it is, it might be one of his best traits.
3. “I’ll Be Your Bird,” M. Ward
This song is an older one, but it’s perfectly creepy and beautiful, and sounds rooted in no particular decade, which is a songwriting feat.
4. “4% Pantomime,” The Band
Every few months I get stuck on the Band. The version I am loving right now is a demo, where Van Morrison stops midway through, offers some advice to the group and tries it again, with Rick Danko taking the first verse this time.
5. “Crazy For Leaving,” Catfish Haven
George Hunter has one of my favorite voices in indie rock. These guys are soulful in the way that Creedence was. We took them on tour and would hear this song every night, and I would wake up singing it every morning.
6. “Thrash Unreal,” Against Me!
It seems that every article I read about this band is about punk-scene politics, but no one seems to want to talk about how massive these songs sound, especially with a chorus of a few thousand excited kids singing along.
8. “Louisiana 1927,” Randy Newman
Newman is tender and humorous here in a way that almost no one else can be. His songs are often more like character studies, and stunning in their depth.
9. “Elvis Cadillac,” Rickie Lee Jones
Her record this year knocked me on my ear, not only its droney, Velvet Underground-style backing band, but also its confessional tone. I think this is the record I listened to the most this year, and this is the most charming song on the record.
10. “Knock ’Em Out,” Lily Allen
After seeing every “important” band in the world on the European summer festival circuit, I saw Lily Allen on my last night in London. Her live show beat everyone I had seen all year, just by the sheer fun of it. She even did two Specials covers. In this song she coolly turns down potential pick-up artists as quick as they arrive.