After listening through the debut LP from Modern Hut, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Generic Treasure was a misleadingly graceful title for the tracks in question. Something along the lines of ”Modern Life Is Shit” would be a little more pertinent, giving the listener a slightly blunter heads-up as to what awaits. Joe Steinhardt – ex-For Science member and head honcho at Don Giovanni Records – is the man behind this new acoustic-led project and also, it seems, the owner of a hopelessly dark world view.
Steinhardt possesses one of those flat, immobile voices that’s about as close to speaking as singing comes. Its worn-down meanderings carry an underbelly of lethargic thoughtfulness and, on Generic Treasure, promptly assert the uncompromising monotony of the record’s vocal character. This, in turn, emphasizes the lyrical content – the complete lack of embellishment forcing the attention down a bottleneck, honing in on what it is that’s being said, rather than how. In other words, it’d be an almighty shame if the lyrics were a disappointment.
On the whole, they’re not. Once or twice, as a result of their single-frequency delivery, some of the lines take on a hackneyed appearance but more often they’re a likeable, down-at-heel take on life in 21st century America. Moving between the battle-hardened tone of an oft-disappointed soul – ”they were writing their own history, nothing was left to mystery/everything was planned, and it all felt like a scam” – to the preoccupied introspection of a dispirited self-analyst – ”I don’t know, I don’t know/maybe I just don’t believe” – there’s little space for the sun through these darkened drapes of cheerless penmanship.
Thankfully, this traipse through varying shades of disaffection doesn’t pall anywhere near as rapidly as Steinhardt‘s teen-bedroom vocals do – a pleasing fact due, in equal measure, to the lyrics themselves and the musical accents that spice up that loner-folk drawl. Mostly, these come in the form of subtle, excellently judged instrumental decorations. ”History” has them, flecked as it is with lightly seared electrical picks. ”Heart”, too, with its dabbling of wobbly, softly galvanic notes. The bulk of the numbers, in fact, have some dimension of this sort and, frankly, it’s a good job; they do just enough to differentiate the tracks from each other, adding enough local color to prevent the whole from becoming too homogeneous. Apart from one notable exception, these are what save the record from being too bogged down in the early-morning introspection that tries to smother the majority.
That notable exception is fourth track, ”Life’, a duet between Steinhardt and Screaming Females‘ Marissa Paternoster that takes a punchy, darkly humorous confessional and forces currents of country-tinged severity through every other verse. ”I’m not proud of the things that I’ve done in this life”, they both declare, alternately, before slamming the sentence shut: ”but that’s alright/’cause I will die”. The introduction of this second voice into the already heavy conditions is a welcome blast of caustic vibrancy as Paternoster‘s lofty, rough-edged delivery takes a red hot branding iron to the track, leaves her stamp and, with it, marks it out as the best moment of the LP.
Underneath these, though, it’s Steinhardt and his acoustic all the way. The mood is, to say the least, an unenthusiastic one, and one easily capable of alienation. A grey fog of disillusioned resignation slouches over everything – disillusionment with the world, with other people, and with the failures littering the ground around Steinhardt‘s slump-shouldered frame. It can all be, without question, a bit flavorless at times. But it’s an honest, unflagging account, and an interesting-enough glimpse inside a man unsure how he feels about feeling anything at all.