The Hold Steady has always been an underlying gem hidden within the rough sand of the rock world. Their heightening focus on heartland rock – type construction has made them what the Decemberists are for Folk Rock, except they are better at what they do. The deep roots of their music is this combination of vast relatability and eloquent blues – indie rock instrumentations that bleed into its own archetype. Their music has always been about evolving their characters in their stories and furthering their lives through various POVs (emotionally and logically). Open Door Policy is a unique evolution in sound and bridge crossing as they culminate work, more complex than past works, but unfortunately not as concise.
The Hold Steady’s hybrid of rock and roll and alternative writing style sews together this style that speaks through lives of different social standing. While other artists try to relate back to their own mental stasis (this is far as the relatability goes), The Hold Steady takes us through scenes of normal kinfolk whose love/conflicting life is close to relativity for the standard blue collar worker and evolves them to different heights. It shows that they aren’t the standard bar-rock band anymore. They are at the lounge, where the noise can always go up, and makes their music pure poetry.
The Hold Steady are no stranger to the niche and lets that be the anchor for their direction. The genre of heartland rock’s focus on the non-genial aspects of the “rock” vocation, primarily in the songwriting. As evident with the opening track, Open Door Policy acts like its namesake giving way to more depth as they let the people in, and in this case the listeners.
This ongoing structure has shown conjunction with lead singer’s Craig Fin’s sometimes talkish vocalization, as if he is telling a story with an orchestration backing it like a film score. “The Feelers,” which opens Open Door Policy does with sight ease, but is ultimately a slight snooze fest that is inherently shifting into other tracks. These other tracks involve the listener more and more as these stories begin to be representations of the little things we seem to remember within the bigger story of life, as this deals with the emotional complex someone has as they contemplate cheating on a partner. Most of these characters’ complexities come from their broken nature as they find ways to make their own mind think they are level-headed with decisions around it.
The middling moments where Open Door Policy dwindles, but is never egregious with some of its off-kilter layering of instruments. This is more or less evident when the harsher thrash like sounds begin to mold and take slight focus, which works for them in certain moments. But when it doesn’t it’s on tracks like “Family Farm,” where it becomes more of a distraction from what Craig Finn writes to put in front of you.
However, most of the middle part of the album, the sound (for the most part) is aggressively beautiful, like it was feeling itself with the more thrash-like drums and guitars, mirroring that garage-like aesthetic. Most times it rides the wave into some delicate sunsets/transitions, as it further deepens in the themes. Tracks like “Lanyards,” speaks on the little anecdotal memories the protagonist saw trying to make his own wave in California, like most do, but it has its own unique little spin of love lost due to own aspirations in music. The story continues, slightly, on the track “Me & Magdalena,” which breaks down the complexities of love, in regards to long distance and more. The depth of these compressed themes and the songwriting are the real champions.
Open Door Policy has a lot to offer, though it is a slight downgrade from their last album, 2019’s Thrashing Through The Passion. The Hold Steady keeps a consistent streak of sonic evolution and quality rock tunes and that’s more than enough to have this on solid rotation with their other albums.