February 07, 2006

New Radiant Storm King "The Steady Hand"

Okay, so, like, you remember the 1990s, right? Well, guess what, my friend, it seems like the 1990s are back! Every week it seems like there's a once-neglected 90s band reunting, reforming, and releasing new material. Even more surprising is that some of these reuniting bands have released records that are as good as--if not better than--the first time around. My theory about why this phenomenon is happening is this: mid-90s bands tended to get caught up in the big, bad music industry, which often tore them apart and left them for dead. After a few years (and expired contracts) had passed, the bands felt safe to come out of their hidey-hole, because, well...nobody cared.
Or maybe the musicians just needed the money.

Sadly, some people might only know New Radiant Storm King for their song, "The Opposing Engineer (Sleeps Alone)," a song that appeared on the excellent early 1990s sampler Buy This Used CD, and which was latered covered by Guided By Voices. Of course, there's more to this veteran indie-rock band than one song; they have a pretty impressive discography, and many of those who fell in love with the band years ago are still in love with them. They're one of those bands that inspire fan devotion. But the band had a string of bad luck, from label woes and financial frustration to personnel upheaval, and though respect and fame came to their contemporaries Archers of Loaf, Guided by Voices and Pavement, NRSK never received the acclaim they deserve. But that was then, this is now, and where are those contemporaries of theirs?


The Steady Hand is the band's seventh album, and it's not so much a new album as it is a fresh new start. Though the album starts off on a soft, gentle, lush note with "Overture," the band quickly punches the listener in the stomach with an onslaught of big, blaring ROCK. "The Winding Staircase" is a sleek, powerful number that kicks all doubters in the teeth. The next song, "Accountant of the Year," proves that the previous song's power was no fluke, but they supplement that power with a heavy dose of melody--but melodicism is not a polite way of saying "soft." The rest of The Steady Hand follows that very basic formula, rewarding listeners with great songs like "Fighting Off the Pricks" and "Hands and Eyes." It's quite clear that Peyton Pinkerton and Matt Hunter's songwriting ability hasn't withered with age; had they had some stability in the 1990s, The Steady Hand might have been stiff competition for Do the Collapse and Brighten The Corners.

"The feeling is back again, it was never really gone," Pinkerton sings on "Come On and Let Yourself Win," and it's quite obvious, too. Considering the band's back-story (a comedy of errors that simply defies description--check out the time line on the band's website), it's surprising that there's even a seventh New Radiant Storm King album. Their perseverence is admirable--and considering the overwhelming odds they've faced, some might have considered the band foolish for continuing on--and The Steady Hand is proof that good things come for those who soldier on. Thus, The Steady Hand isn't so much a 'comeback' or a 'return to form' as it is a tabula rasa. For those who have never heard of New Radiant Storm King, the album is a wonderful introduction; for those who have loved them from the beginning, it is a vindication of their greatness.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.furnacerock.com
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

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