It’s no easy task putting The Stepkids into a category. There are elements of funk, jazz, old-school pop, and others that show up in their music. They’re quite a unique band, which I figure is a result of getting their start playing in other musician’s bands for a time before they went on to do their own thing (guitarist Jeff Gitelman used to play on tours with Alicia Keys.) I had the pleasure of seeing The Stepkids live while they were on tour with Mayer Hawthorne in Atlanta, Georgia and was able to purchase their self-titled debut while I was there. The way they fuse these different musical styles together is something I’ve found impressive from the beginning. They take it a bit further on the sophomore album ‘Troubadour.’
The album starts with ‘Memoirs of Grey,’ a psychedelic track that contains the use of many instruments and tempo changes. From the start of the album, you’re hearing keys, guitars, sounds that I’m positive I’ve heard in older video games, etc. It’s a groove that’s easy to get into, however, and doesn’t sound needlessly busy. Up next is ‘The Lottery.’ This is the first single…with a rather “interesting” music video (YouTube is calling your name.) It’s probably my favorite track off ‘Troubadour’ and gives the uninitiated a good idea of what The Stepkids are about (the last track ‘The Art of Forgetting’ is a VERY close second.) The middle section, with the bridge followed by a short guitar solo, is amazing. What I love about these guys is how they switch pace from song to song, even minute to minute, in the same song and it always makes sense. You get the sense that The Stepkids aren’t trying to be anyone else musically, but that they’re lovers of variety. The inclusion of all of their tricks and meshing of different genres isn’t contrived at all.
‘Troubadour’ includes ten tracks, the same as their debut. It’s well-suited for full-listens, as opposed to skipping around the album for tracks. Any band or artist that can achieve this in an album nowadays is praiseworthy in my book. With the same amount of tracks, a difference I noticed with ‘Troubadour’ is it’s a longer album. Aside from the fact that their debut album included an intro and outro, which ‘Troubadour’ does not, the songs themselves last longer. Given The Stepkids convention of going off in different directions, it’s a good thing here. The songs have even more variation within them and after multiple listens, I’m still noticing a lot of cool sections that hadn’t stood out earlier for whatever reason.
One thing these fascinating tunes tend to do, is overshadow the lyrics though. As far as vocals, all three members contribute, and I take no issue at all with them. I guess unlike other artists and bands, when I listen to The Stepkids, I don’t key in on one particular aspect of the music. I can’t. These guys include so much, that I find myself trying to hear it all at once. I won’t hold it against them because I like what I’m hearing, and the fact that I can’t get my ears to pay attention to “words” at first warrants more listens in itself. It took about 3 spins of ‘Troubadour’ before I actually started to notice what these guys were talking about. It sounds like a complaint…maybe it is to an extent, but any reason to play a record multiple times can’t be entirely bad. At least not to me…
‘Sweet Salvation,’ as far as I know, is one of the first songs they completed for this record. I’m guessing that because when I saw The Stepkids live as I mentioned previously, they performed it amongst songs from their debut album which was still fairly new at the time. Hearing it live was great, but being able to sit and listen to it in my headphones, it was almost like listening to it for the first time. All the strange sound effects playing underneath the main instrumental stood out more and I enjoyed it a great deal more. That’s ‘Troubadour’ in a nutshell. If you like what you hear upon listening for the first time, it’s a good chance that you’ll find more to like when you go back. It’s trippy, but it’s trippy with a purpose. What The Stepkids are doing so far sounds good to me. The fact that they’re far from one-trick ponies, gives me some assurance that I should keep a look out for them in the future.