Stephen Steinbrink – Synesthetic ephemera (from the album Arranged waves, Melodic Records)

American singer songwriter I somehow missed in the rush last year when this album was released. He seems at first to be operating out of a folk idiom, except...

...except for the delicately thrusting arrangements, often built around insistent picked electric guitar patterns, pulsing pitter patter bass and generally featuring swooning pop soul vocals.

There is a shade of Paul Simon about Steinbrink’s hushed near-falsetto but Steinbrink’s songwriting has an intriguing philosophical air to it, meditating on the absurdity of the human condition and the certain destruction of the planet, among other serious shit. Let’s just say that song titles like ‘A simple armature of your ideal world’ are unlikely to crop up in a Josh Ritter set. (His Twitter subtitle reads “attempting to use traditional pop forms as a backdrop to sing about technological isolation, identity, love, repressed memories, and Arizona Politics” which gives another indication of how unusual a singer songwriter Steinbrink is.) As the album progresses, sublime pop moments of the order of Teenage Fanclub or even Todd Rundgren emerge.

There’s also a beguiling combination of creeping lyrical melancholy along with a rhythmic swing. New single ‘Synesthetic ephemera’ is eminently danceable as it probes some abstract and complex topics – the scope of human emotion, the deceitful/magical quality of brain activity – “dangerous brain, ambidextrous and textural”. This is set above an irresistible groove built around a two-step drumbeat and hip shaking tambourine, high tone bass pulse and the most gorgeous slide guitar interjection. So folk, maybe not.

Whatever pigeonhole we want to use, it’s coolly challenging, subtly invigorating, naggingly beautiful pop music.


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