Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Stones Throw
Genre(s): Rap, R&B, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Neo-Soul, Alternative R&B, Acid Jazz
The Stepkids’ eponymous 2011 debut promised great things for the Connecticut psych-pop trio with a wealth of sun-drenched harmonies and cute stylistic nods to cult favourites such as The Free Design and Fela Kuti. This second album finds the band further developing their vision and creating another stellar collection of impeccably crafted melodies. Featuring a similar merry-go- round of styles and influences augmented by prime musicianship, the musical focus has shifted forward a decade or two, with meatier production abetting a warmer sound.
The rap collective Odd Future has always had far-ranging taste-- early generalizations about their shock-tactic lyrics tended to ignore just how broad their range of influence spanned. When Tyler, the Creator was just getting into the process of recording his third album Wolf, he confided in an interview with Spin that he was ready to make those outré influences more explicit. “I don't know how, but I'm gonna try shit like this out,” he said, in reference to the funk-soul revivalists the Stepkids, who he had playing on his laptop during the interview.
The StepKids' sophomore album, Troubadour, is a kaleidoscope of stimulating sounds paired with lyrics that often feel too affected to be taken seriously. Part of the group's appeal is that they sound like musician friends gigging at a hipster lounge in their spare time, just for kicks. But the StepKids have a tendency to undermine emotion by crafting peculiar lyrics that weaken the song's message (i.e., "Symmetry").
Many were introduced to the versatile chops of the Stepkids two years after the release of their psychedelic breakout debut, when they uploaded live covers to YouTube that demonstrated their ability to jazz up the freshly released singles "Suit and Tie" by Justin Timberlake and "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk. As musically inclined as the onetime session musicians proved themselves to be, Troubadour is a middling sophomore album that finds the band more concerned with capturing a tone than constructing a song with a solid foundation. The Stepkids' "Legend in My Own Mind" showed they could write a tight hook, even when they were getting freaky with psychedelic soul.
Like trying to describe Stevie Wonder jamming on Sesame Street’s psychedelic Pinball Number Count, the Stepkids may cause many a mystified listener to over-indulge in the hyphen. Tim Walsh, Jeff Gitelman and Dan Edinberg have made it their business to be un-pigeonhole-able, spanning every genre from jazz fusion to country-folk ballad, inspiring ridiculously flailing terms like electro-psych-jazz-neo-funk-soul-pop-thing. Concocting style-defying throwbacks for the 21st century listener, Troubadour, the group’s second release on Stones Throw Records, tackles life, love and the music industry amid a cacophony of experimental, measured jamming.