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rock nyc's Best Album Of 2013: Generic Treasure By Modern Hut

existential bummer
















Generic  Treasure is part of the extreme loner folk genre, and if that sounds scary it might be for good reason. Recorded by Joseph Steinhardt under the name Modern Hut, Joe has never met a note he doesn’t want to flatten, an inflection he doesn’t want to pass, he seems incapable of writing a melody without sabotaging it: it’s like Joseph is saying, you want pretty pop, I’ll give you pretty pop but then you’ve got to pay for it.

And pay for it we do, some of the most intricately arranged, gorgeous melodies you’ll ever hear and wrapped in acoustic strum and Eeyore  monotone as Steinhardt sifts through self-loathing and misanthropy in a world view so bleak the only thing that keeps it collapsing is the act of songwriting itself.

Steinhardt writes about three things here:

1. Hating himself.

2. Hating you.

3. Hating both.

On the very first song “Mid tempo”  he is overwhelmed by anhedonia , “If this guitar could talk I’d tell it to shut the fuck up”  Joseph claims and everything is encroaching on his territory, even the walls are inching in closer, and the one thing you expect from a song writer, the song, doesn’t work. It is a deep, unsettled nursery rhyme of nothingness; nothing is right, everything is lock stepped in a drear, “I don’t even know what I’m trying to say” he claims.

The next song is the only cover of  (his own song) of For Science’s “Just Pray” an ode to agnostic, which, along with “Time” seem settled onto nihilism, and to call it less than that is to misunderstanding what it means to believe in nothingness,  in an end where even time has no meaning, where everything has ceased to exist.

We like to call this an existential bummer but where Sartre saw it as a philosophical position, Steinhardt sees it as a reason for acute depression where all effort is meaningless. The third song, “History” brings it all back home. With a strummed guitar and a counter guitar anchoring his voice, Steinhardt gets to one of the roots of his depression. It is one thing to say “I’m going to die therefore life has no meaning” but it is something else entirely to say : I’m going to die AND life is worthless”. Seen through a media maze, Steinhardt has written a masterpiece of protest; nothing is honest or true, everything is undernourished, manipulated, lies, meaningless: a sharp sad trip ever downwards and a world with an inexcusable lack of contemplation: we don’t get it.

“History” is one of the great songs; within its three minutes plus in constitutes a worldview that is unique and true unto itself, it echoes through history, through generations to us. It means as much as it can possibly mean because it means everything. And, and this is important, it is a great song. Steinhardt’s voice is like Lou Reed only calmer, it is in a state of dissolve, the melody (wait till you hear the guitar break) is so strong it can’t be done anything with: it must stand on its own.

The album is very short, not quite half an hour, but it sounds large; it has a scope to its insistency on “Life” Joe trades lines with Producer Marissa Paternoster and none of them are very happy: “I’m not proud of the things that I’ve done in my life but that’s alright because I will die.”

All of this is first rate, every song is perfectly written and performed, nothing is wasted, eberything matters and with “Moving On”, Joseph has written an answer to his own “Headache”. In real life, Jospeh married the girl who inspired his heartbreak but on Generic Gift he loses her, she’s become just a figure in a car, maybe it’s over.

But before we get there, the other Steinhardt masterpiece arrives, “America” . It srats like a fable, “I was living with cats and April” but the relationship is on fault lines, “she came over but she didn’t stay long” and soon dissolves into more self-recrimination, “if I could be more aggressive, less obsessive a little more possessive” he wonders and it doesn’t take long for April to agree “She said I had no direction…” but really, in a world where nothing matters, where time doesn’t matter, where we are killing time till death in a world which has become one giant advertising campaign to get you to croak quietly, Steinhardt’s “Can someone out there in America tell me what’s rock feels like a fool’s errand.  “If I could be more like April, less enabled but a little more stable…” But he can’t.

This is an ultimate Steindhardt self portrait. It is the heart of the man who wrote “Fenway Lights” and “Colorado” –they are songs of self awareness bordering on suicide; they are songs with the inescapable self knowledge that this isn’t gonna work out and so what if it did.

I am a huge Steinhardt fan, he is a sublime songwriter and I had the good fortune to hear a lot of these songs as he worked his way through them and everytime I thought the track he sent me was complete and every time he would strip away a layer or tweak a line; it what seems to be haphazard folk by a stone cold singer with issues is revealed as an intellectual Rubik’s cube where the answer is always the same, has to art deal with death.

Modern Hut has provided a morality tale where the moral is life is a disaster. It is the best album of the year.

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