(Written for GUITAR-CAFE, August 2012)
Multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay orders listeners to “never trust a man without a horror story”. He gives us the unnerving orders that “if life gives you lemons, rub them in the open wounds of your enemies”. Even amidst upbeat polka, he reflects upon war zones at either end of “the Berlin to Baghdad railroad”. Strap in because this will be a bumpy ride.
His five-year stint with punk rockers The Hold Steady certainly shows as new album Do the Struggle contains some of the most ridiculous clashes of fiddles and fuzz since The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The album’s title itself serves as a perfect description. The chaotic nature of the title track is as abrasive as country music instrumentation can get, and just to taunt the less adventurous listeners, at over six minutes it is the longest track on the record.
However, on the other end of the scale is ‘Take No Prisoners’, an unusually calm duet with self-proclaimed ‘aggressive ukelele balladeer’ Emilyn Brodsky. Despite being the most reclusive track on the album, it’s also the track that could be the most definitive. As the duo coolly croons with perfectly produced voices, the instruments sound as though they are deliberately recorded poorly, or mixed with a liberal dose of white noise, bringing an almost industrial trademark style even to the albums sole ballad.
Abandoning the acoustic sounds entirely, between every song is a track containing just electronic noise. Most of them bare no resemblance to the tracks before or after them, making them the albums most bizarre moments, and perhaps the most irritating. It comes as no surprise that the record was produced by New Jersey experimental electronic hip-hop duo Dälek.
Do the Struggle is an unusual combination that could be best described as filthy folk, feeding the accordions and banjos of stereotypical American country music through a sandpaper punk rock filter. In theory, it’s a formula that just shouldn’t work. In practice, with its rather acquired taste, it’s still not apparent that it does. While it won’t please everybody, Franz Nicolay has created something truly peculiar, and worth a spin if you’re feeling bold.