Modern Hut’s debut album bores with similarity

modernhut

Courtesy of Don Giovanni Records

Modern Hut’s debut record, Generic Treasure, drops Aug. 6. 

Claire Gordon

Modern Hut singer Joe Steinhardt, founder of Don Giovanni Records, might want to stick to releasing other people’s albums. With a grating monotone and acoustic guitar, Steinhardt stumbles through 11 tracks on the band’s debut record, Generic Treasure, without giving the listener a glimpse of originality or honesty.

Drawing heavily from Beat Happening and Songs: Ohia, Modern Hut attempts to tap into the stream of consciousness, do-it-yourself folk music that was a specialty of K Records in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Unfortunately for Steinhardt, and the audience, he falls far short of the intelligent and sometimes ridiculous life stories that Calvin Johnson and company made famous.

The music is strongly reminiscent of Beck’s later work, with less polish and no rhythm section, while the delivery is a blatant facsimile of Beck’s earlier songs. Modern Hut’s “Time” is a poor man’s “Cyanide Breathmint,” which matched slow, deadpan delivery and meandering acoustic guitar with absurd lyrics and a sense of wonder at the world.  “Time,” while sounding eerily similar, showcases only the author’s self-obsession. “Just Pray” flirts with the idea of making a real connection with the listener, before clumsy delivery and bad writing take over and leave the song stumbling into another direction.

Steinhardt has many opportunities throughout the album to offer up a connection, but chooses to keep the listener at arms length. The most prevalent words in his lyrics are ‘I’ and ‘my.’  Steinhardt declines to interrogate his own emotions beyond the sadness of an unreturned phone call, or in one instance, having spilled beer on his shirt. The conversational tone of the album coupled with the off-key singing continues a tradition of folk musicians who declined to conform to industry standards, but does not add anything to it. Bob Dylan proved that a man’s voice did not have to be smooth and polished to make an impact. However, words must be impressive to make anyone listen. Generic Treasure is not smooth, polished or impressive, leaving the listener wondering why exactly they should care. 

The most remarkable thing about this album is that it took six years to create. If this had been a slap-dash two-day project, fueled by creativity and caffeine, the unfinished and adolescent state of affairs would not be so surprising. After six years one would expect, if not more polish musically, then lyrics that were more than skin deep. If this is a musical reflection of the depth of Steinhardt’s soul, one could walk through that puddle without getting the sides of their boots wet. As a whole, the record is not awful or unlistenable. It’s simply that every song has an older, better version by a different artist. It’s strangely familiar in an irritating way, a song misremembered and worse off for the disparity.    

Generic Treasure drops Aug. 6. Follow Claire Gordon on Twitter @ClaireGordon9