Release Date: Jun 24, 2016
Record label: Melodic
“While making ‘Anagrams’ I felt like I was losing it,” claimed Phoenix, Arizona-born songwriter Stephen Steinbrink in a statement about his new album. “Lately, writing songs almost makes the world seem more chaotic”. That might seem a strange claim for those familiar with the easygoing wanderlust of 2014’s ‘Arranged Waves’. But even though it shares at least some of that record’s characteristics, ‘Anagrams’ feels fuller and somewhat less optimistic.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Stephen Steinbrink has been bouncing around the West Coast indie underground for over a decade now, releasing numerous records of bittersweet, folk-inflected pop on a handful of tiny labels. While the 27-year-old songwriter is a dedicated nomad as a performer—he’s been touring off and on since his teens—Steinbrink’s music is a deeply intimate affair, a series of bedroom obsessions brought to life. Steinbrink’s last album, 2014’s excellent, wide-ranging Arranged Waves, garnered some attention outside his close-knit DIY circles.
Anagrams is an unashamedly breezy collection: unfussy arrangements, an infectiously upbeat folk-pop vibe and a bag full of melodies. There’s more going on here than the California dreamin’ groove of Imposible Hand and Absent Mind would suggest, but diversions from the template are frustratingly rare, and as a whole, it errs on the side of good manners more than it really needs to. As ever with a dreamy aesthetic, when tone and production trump drama and bite, it connects largely at surface level.