Review: The Stepkids – Troubadour
Published on September 11th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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The Stepkids’ self-titled debut album was so far ahead of the game that it was hard to say what the game even was. Troubadour finds them upping this unspecified game still further.
This Connecticut trio have the lot: their music is as complex as you’d want it to be without it spilling over into inscrutability, while at the same time being as melodic – either in harmony or discordance, usually both at once – as anything else out there.
Furthermore, Stepkids songs teem with colours, benevolent good humour and a funky kind of psychedelia/psychedelic kind of funk, all aspects that they’ve somehow managed to embolden on Troubadour.
Opener “Memoirs of Grey” kicks things off with clunky banjo and an utterance of “Once upon a time…in Connecticut”, comes strutting in surrounded by swirls of technicolour synth and bright beaming harmonies, delivers the indicative assertion that “dreams make the waking life bearable”…
…then promptly weaves a stunningly vivid dream titled “The Lottery”. We shan’t repeat here what we wrote about “The Lottery” when we awarded it the full five quails in a recent singles round-up, but suffice it to say we were most enthused and still are.
The Stepkids were apparently an influence on Tyler, The Creator’s also-dazzling Wolf album of earlier this year, and the Odd Future association is further cemented by “Desert in the Dark”, written with Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians from OFWGKTA offshoot The Internet.
Splattered by Prince-y synth and briefly threatening an outbreak of techno, “Desert in the Dark” is one of several tracks on Troubadour that’s hard to describe without using the word ‘strut': “Sweet Salvation”, with its wibbly synths taking flight from it like flocks of birds, and the felty, flute-flaunting “Moving Pictures”, to name but two.
“Insecure Troubadour” is stunning, ornately piling up harmonies that verge on the classical, as if it was some great lost Moody Blues number; “Symmetry”, for its part, flutters in with acoustic fingerpicking and gleaming swirls of divine electronics before surrendering to urgent, faintly military sounding trumpet. It’s an aural experience.
On “Bitter Bug”, The Stepkids take on modern R&B/commercial rap and make it sound like a blast with consummate ease, not least because they ply it with such enthralling oddity…not least an hilariously deadpan interjection of “quantum physics”. They can do anything, and it will be great.
After the ‘messed-up Beach Boys’ semi-instrumental of “Brutal Honesty”, Troubadour signs off in style with “The Art of Forgetting”: there’s double bass, shuffling brush drumming, syncopated Spanish guitar, just seriously great musicianship that doesn’t get so carried away with its own proficiency that it forgets to entertain, nay mesmerise, you.
Basically, “The Art of Forgetting” sounds like a Stevie Wonder song having been fed through a blender. You dig? Like we said, anything. Hats off to another stellar Stepkids LP.
Troubadour is out now on Stones Throw Records.
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!