2. Animate Dust
4. A Simple Armature of Your Ideal Word
5. Synesthetic Ephemera
6. Brand New Manic Brain Holder
8. It's So Pretty (What You Did For Me)
9. It Takes A Lot To Change A Mind
10. Sand Mandalas
11. Impress My Memory
12. Arranged Waves
Stephen Steinbrink – Arranged Waves
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There’s much to be said for solitude. It gives you time to step back and reflect. Self-taught songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and home recordist Stephen Steinbrink has had plenty of time to do that. Having spent the last 13 of his 25 years on this planet travelling solo in Greyhounds, Toyota minivans, and European trains, his wanderlust travels as seen through his Lennon frames have shaped stunning breakthrough album Arranged Waves.
“I grew up in Phoenix; it’s bleakness through and through. A de-centralized suburb of nothing.” he says. “There are so many ghosts of the recession – the bowling alley I went to as a kid has been abandoned. Friends’ houses have been bulldozed. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a burning down house while stuck in traffic. All these empty buildings from my childhood are unsettling and symbolic of something, but I don’t know what. I need to write more songs to figure that out.“
Escapism can come in many forms. For Steinbrink whether travelling around the world singing to anyone who will listen or simply sat in a road-side diner writing his next set of songs Arranged Waves has provided that much-needed distraction. “Song writing is cheap therapy, and I process much through my music,” he reveals. “I didn’t know it at the time; I was just trying to write about how I felt in a way that was real and honest to my melancholy. The album sounds soft and light at times sure, but when you’re cold and wet, you don’t wrap a freezing towel around your head, right?”
Screwing with expectations, Arranged Waves goes beyond what you might think. Whilst getting inside its chords by finger-picking counter melodies, Steinbrink’s distinctive falsetto may recall a youthful Neil Young, a one-man Simon & Garfunkel or Nick Drake at his most poignant. Yet for each beautifully understated lament, there are moments where down-shifted synths gleam through 8-bit wobble (‘A Simple Armature of Your Ideal World’) and foggy 80s pop is filtered through gauzy Ariel Pink textures (‘It’s So Pretty What You Did For Me ’) like broken transmissions from a waterlogged radio. “Most folk-revivalist music now discusses topics that are more relevant to past generations,” he says shirking off inevitably lazy ‘folk’ or ‘singer-songwriter’ tags. “I’d hate to be lumped in with that. I’d much rather hear a folk song about how someone is frustrated at their iPad, because although the subject is banal, the relevancy isn’t. That is real folk music.”
If it’s not for the album’s field recordings – the bells ringing in ‘Tangerine’ were recorded before a show in Graz, Austria whilst its low frequency hum is the manipulated recording of a bus Steinbrink was riding between Chicago and Ann Arbour – it’s his lyrics that marks Steinbrink out as a true punk troubadour trying to make sense of the world. Beyond apparent stream of consciousness Arranged Waves is an album about lost images with each song an attempt to describe moments of banality without manipulation of their inherent romance. ‘Sand Mandalas’ is about the reconciliation of meaninglessness: “It feels impossible to think the thought / that I’m doomed to make my meaning / in the arbitrary ether”, some songs are about being a child and others about the ability to change our consciousness through sheer effort.
Now residing amongst the green spaces of Olympia, Washington, the record took shape in a small 12’x20′ structure behind his new home. Enlisting friends Andrew Dorsett, Eli Moore and Ashley Eriksson (LAKE), guitarist Tom Filardo (Filardo / Bouquet) and cellist Jen Grady (You Are Plural) they set up in his home studio to record the album’s twelve songs, inspired by multi-media artist James Roemer, repressed memories of watching TV, the early 70s work of John Cale and Can, and the underground community of songwriters that live on the western coast of the USA.
A true passenger of life, Stephen Steinbrink is more cultural observer than 21st century busker with his intelligently cool left-of-centre approach to a sincere pop melody. If you ever come across him be sure to take your chance to say ‘hi’ “I like people, people are comfort, but still, there’s something nice about going out into the country and being completely autonomous and free,” he admits.
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