Franz Nicolay- St. Sebastian of the Short Stage

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Franz Nicolay has been involved with a wide variety of bands and musicians over the years, but chances are that he is best known for the time he spent in The Hold Steady. What you may not know is that over the past year and a half or so Nicolay has been releasing a wealth of solo material and other writing, including the four song EP St. Sebastian of the Short Stage. The two sides of this effort are incredibly distinctive and if it weren’t for Franz’s voice one might assume that these are two entirely different artists. It’s a very interesting release that showcases Nicolay’s talents as both a singer and a writer, and gets my recommendation.

Apparently Franz Nicolay’s previous full length was divided in the same way as St. Sebastian of the Short Stage is, so listeners who heard that effort should expect the same mix of fun, energetic tracks and sad, depressing ones. The “fun” side starts off with a collaboration with The Dresden Dolls in which they cover “New England”, and this definitely qualifies the fun tag that Nicolay himself has attached to this side of the record. Amanda Palmer and Franz Nicolay work well together and although this may only be a cover it’s quite enjoyable and has that same punk cabaret feel that The Dresden Dolls are known for. From here the cabaret feel is reinforced with “The Ballad of Hollis Wadsworth Mason, Jr.” which adds in some additional instrumentation in the way of horns and some other sounds. The song itself has a sound comparable to acts such as Gogol Bordello, and the lyrics are influenced by the Watchmen graphic novel. It is on this song that Nicolay’s vocals really break through and his knack for writing thought provoking and engaging lines really becomes apparent.

Moving on to the sad side, things immediately take a turn towards the depressing. Both of these tracks apparently were written back in 2001 and represent a very different point in Franz Nicolay’s life. Although I must say that the A Side is much more fun to listen to, the nuances of Nicolay’s are more apparent on the softer songs. On opener “When the War Came” he uses a much deeper pitch and sounds influenced by classic vocalists such as Johnny Cash and Tom Waits. This track also has some strong songwriting and themes that are sure to resonate with quite a few people. “I Just Want to Love” isn’t nearly as strong thematically but it retains the same somber guitar twangs of “When the War Came”, and the melodies are sure to draw listeners in. Just be prepared for a gigantic shift in mood, as Nicolay wasn’t kidding when he called this the Depressing Side.

St. Sebastian of the Short Stage is quite engaging, and I also enjoyed the short story that is included in the fold out poster, “Paraska Mikhailivna Is A Witch”. Apparently since this EP came out Nicolay has already released another full length album, and I definitely plan on checking that out based on the strength of the writing and hooks that are offered here. Franz Nicolay has revealed two distinctive sides of himself on this release, and it will be interesting to see what else he has in store further down the road.

Full Disclosure: Review copy provided by Beartrap PR

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