OK. I work from home all day, talking to myself and the dog. This record could have something to say to me.
Boy, does it ever. But I don’t think it’s just me. I’ve written before about the internal dialogue that I suspect everyone’s got going on in their head, whether that be with themselves or a higher power or whatever. On Generic Treasure, Steinhardt gives you a glimpse — way more than a glimpse, really — into his own internal dialogue; and I think almost everyone will recognize a moment or a feeling.
A peaceful night’s sleep, or the lack of it, is a running theme on the record. “And now the TV is starting to talk back at me / About all of the reasons that I can’t fall asleep,” sings Steinhardt on opener “Mid-Tempo,” calling to mind a late night in the middle of the week, your significant other asleep in the bedroom; while you watch some terrible movie on Lifetime at 2AM. After a night spent dreaming of a world spinning on its side on “History,” Steinhardt wakes up to a dystopia of overnight sensations and irony where “Everything was planned / And it all felt like a scam.”
“Moving On” gives a hint about what may make sleeping so difficult sometimes. The song opens with the line, “I haven’t slept that well in days / It seems that little things have got a way / Of hanging on a brain and staying” sung over the wail of an electric guitar that sounds like it could belong to Generic Treasure’s producer, Marissa Paternoster.
At other times, we can trace insomnia to guilt or regret. On “Life,” with Steinhardt and Paternoster trading off on the anthemic chorus of “I’m not proud of the things I’ve done in this life / But that’s alright / ‘Cause I will die,” Steinhardt sings, “It’s times like these that we need the most sleep, but I / Stayed up all night / Counting quarters.” Similarly, on “Wrong,” we get, “Sometimes you must do wrong / Just to show yourself you’re right / But that won’t make it easier to sleep through the night.”
Our internal dialogue, though, may get the loudest, making it the most difficult for us to sleep, when it sees us asking questions for which answers aren’t likely to come back. “Can someone out there in America tell me what’s wrong?” Steinhardt begs on “America.” And on “Just Pray,” Steinhardt tries to follow the advice of a wise, old building custodian, but thinks, “I don’t know / I just… I don’t know / What if I really don’t believe?”
Steinhardt delivers every song on Generic Treasure in his deadpan vocal style, sometimes bending and contorting words and syllables to fit the rhythm of a particular song. The strategically placed musical and vocal assists from Paternoster add punch and variety in a few places and, along with Steinhardt’s self-deprecating humor and wordplay, keep the album interesting.
I don’t know. Maybe Joe Steinhardt and I are the only two people on earth whose minds are constantly spinning and ruminating on things that sometimes make it hard to sleep. I don’t think so, though. I think everyone who listens to Generic Treasure will, at one point or another, find themselves smirking with recognition or a sense of community with the record’s narrator, even if he is an extreme loner.
Generic Treasure is out now on New Brunswick’s Don Giovanni Records.