Sep 28, 2011 Web Exclusive
"You're shockin' and jivin' me, baby!" So goes an interrupting lover-man voice on "Brain Ninja," the most over-the-top funkadelic storm on The Stepkids' self-titled debut. It's cringe-inducing and completely stupid to read on paper, but as the line percolates in a stew of '70s-styled, midnight psych-soul, it sounds somehow... groovy.
This Connecticut-based trio treats the recording studio as their own rhythmic time machine. Over the course of these 10 absorbing tracks, they pummel with the poise of a late-night funk infomercial—journeying through Motown soul and trippy texture in equal portions. This could be disastrously corny if The Stepkids weren't such schooled students in groove history, and it also helps that they play their instruments very, very well (on the wonderfully vintage "Shadows on Behalf," Dan Edinberg's nimble bass runs approach James Jamerson territory).
But it's not like these guys are simply flexing their muscles amidst a series of winking retro jokes; they may not be taking themselves all too seriously, but they are deathly straight-faced about their ass-wiggling craft. Though the instrumentation and that dry, dated production are transported directly from 1969, The Stepkids infuse a modern psych-rock edge to their arrangements: The pulsing "Suburban Dream" is decorated with glowing guitar stabs and neon synths that could be piped in from the last MGMT album.
And just as they refuse to be classified simply as a throwback, the trio isn't afraid to fuck around in the slightest. The far-reaching "Santos & Ken" voyages through skronky sax, noisy synth blasts, white-hot cello, and some of the downright funkiest clavinet captured on tape since Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot." Meanwhile, "La La" wanders into free-jazz territory toward the track's head-scratching conclusion—all blaring horns, skittering classical guitar, and a malfunctioning synth blast with all the subtlety of an EMT siren. Weird, wild, wonderful stuff. (www.thestepkidsband.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 7/10
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