Franz Nicolay is often billed as an ex-member of The Hold Steady, an ex-member of The World/Inferno Friendship Society, or a former touring member of Against Me! He’s a working musician, and while his contributions to other bands are notable, they never showcased the full extent of Nicolay’s talents. Franz has been releasing solo-records since 2007. With his latest album, To Us, the Beautiful, Nicolay proves that as a song writer and front man, he can hang with the best of them.
The album takes its name from a traditional Ukrainian toast. Franz describes name the album like this:
“I heard someone say the toast ‘To Us the Beautiful…and to those who disagree may their eyes fall out’ and I thought, well, after that these songs basically write themselves.”
Whether or not the songs wrote themselves is questionable, but Franz does manage to blend multiple aspects of his former bands in a seamless manner. To Us, the Beautiful has anthemic sing-alongs, up-tempo pop tracks, and thoughtful slow jams. The highlight of the album, however, is Franz’s lyrics. While it’s easy to look at Craig Finn or Jack Terricloth for comparison, Nicolay is building something that feels uniquely his own. The songs have storytelling and poeticism. They have humor and they have heartbreak. They’re beaming with personality, and while not everything in instantly accessible, the songs are likeable enough that they bring you on for the ride.
For example: the albums track “Open with The Wrestlers” chronicles the story a story of lost love over the backdrop of a Mongolian folk party that features costumed fighters and underage Neo-Nazis. Another track “Everything is going According to Plan” features these lyrics: Only the first Tattoo Needs to mean something, after that you can get something dumb to fill the rest in. They’re the type of ideas that you either get or you don’t, but for those who understand, there is a lot to dig into.
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