The Hold Steady kicks it up a couple notches on Boys and Girls in America, the followup to last year's acclaimed Separation Sunday, with sharper riffs and smarter transitions augmenting Craig Finn's reliably compelling narratives. Finn revisits the hapless misfits who populated Separation Sunday on songs like "First Night" and introduces a whole new batch of characters along the way -- the most striking of whom are a couple of drug-addled kids who embark on the briefest of romances in the "Chillout Tent" after OD-ing and coming to. Finn's mates, meanwhile, rummage through the classic-rock fakebook and create backdrops of arena-sized guitars set against lilting organs and austere piano passages lifted straight from the Boss. An unabashed bar band with indie sensibilities, the Hold Steady is still the best rock band in America, boys and girls.
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