Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Are you male? Have you seen the beginning (especially), the middle and the end of Sofia Coppola's dry masterpiece "Lost In Translation," the one about living in a foreign city and seeking companionship in the strangest, old man places, looking first to the hotel's bar? There's this girl named Charlotte, played by this actress named Scarlett Johansson, who is all kinds of foxy.
Line up 100 males just like you and I... (if you haven't been warned, ladies, this first part of this introduction to the New Jersey rock and roll band Steel Train is for the fellows, but you're more than welcome to join in, the reads are free here no matter what)...can safely guarantee that 80 of them have thought about that body, those thick, red, wax lips that could well be made out of some kind of forbidden fruit, (they look pulpy and edible), and that scene at the start of Coppola's movie where she's in nothing but plain, unimaginative panties, once that month. It's that frequent. She finds a way to make her lustful presence felt across the map, across the gender.
Steel Train lead singer Jack Antonoff used to date that fine woman of which has been type-written and yet that piece of information - as true as it is - couldn't mean any less here, now that is. It's a factoid that is pure trivia. It's archival. Antonoff has written songs about her on the band's previous releases. He's even been so bold as to mention her by name. There's decency in the fact that her name is so poetic and can stunt double as the hue of blood or anger, but it's there and, it seems that in the liner notes it would be capitalized so the air of mystery is foregone. And he's done with her as any kind of subject fodder, aside from any sort of latent mentions that would be cryptic and codified enough to make their discovery a stretch.
There were also these bands called The Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young that made music and put out record albums long before any of the members of Steel Train were ever born. When the band began as the project of Scott Irby-Ranniar in 1999, the two began to be known as that band with the lean to classic rock and roll, the kind that created a need for the label.
They listened to and emulated the music that started it all, that gave reason for arenas and auditoriums to host something other than theater productions and graduation ceremonies. They could borrow ideas and hone at their own speed because they were kids and they didn't truly know much better. They played what they liked, what they liked most, what they heard echoing constantly in their heads.
The band's sophomore album, Trampoline, dispels any of those old habits almost entirely as it's the kind of big record that does a lot for an emerging band's career. They've put down the crutches, taken off the training wheels and pushed their pontoon boat away from the dock. They're on their own now and they've written an album that should be the first in a long line of defining moments.
Antonoff has become a better writer, so much so that he's actually painting now. He's capable of throwing backdrops - the skies, the monsters, the weather, the temperature - into your ears now, gravitating to stories of impressive fiction and yet truth, one still believes. He writes of make-believe the way that you write about real life - where it doesn't feel that way. A heaven-like city named Dakota (certainly not any reference to the real states of the same name) is paired with a man dressed as a woman. There's a boy who gets stabbed in the arms for singing a song differently than socially approved. These are songs that were all dreams once, dreams first.
The depiction of buildings burning throughout the album binds this under-riding sense that the terrorist attack on New York City got to Antonoff a little bit, but there's also a part of you that thinks that those burning buildings or just a nice little run of destruction is capable of deploying the endorphins needed to leave the old girl troubles mostly behind, as well as prompting one serious creative advancement. They should, from here on out, be their own band, not a worshipper set on doing well as a re-assembler.