And I thought Stephen Steinbrink was such a nice clean living young man. Well understandably perhaps, after the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland he went a bit off the rails... eating LSD daily, refusing to sleep and locking himself in his studio. The results are contained within Utopia Teased, an album which eschews the clear lines of previous albums for a rougher production which mirrors the dark days Steinbrink was having whilst making the record.
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With two lovely albums in Arranged Waves and Anagrams under his belt it's time for Stephen Steinbrink to make what we are promised is the mangled, disturbed third album. Except this is Stephen Steinbrink whose music is generally as sweet as a nut so we shouldn't go expecting Sister Lovers here. It's a slight variation on previous work in that there are more keyboards, some wilder guitar activity and a more daring lyrical outlook but really, it's just more of the sort of well crafted guitar pop he does so well.
It's a shock to learn that during a period of going off the rails Steinbrink ate LSD and lived in his studio during the recording of this record as he seemed like such a quiet lad. Backstory apart though it's hard to notice much of a difference in mood and tone. I Wanna Be Free sounds quite incredibly like power pop group Shoes with its familiar melodies and e- bowed guitar (the same sound turns up in the subsequent A Part of Me Is A Part Of You) and it takes Steinbrink a few songs to settle down and gain momentum. The records finest moments come one after the other four songs in. Empty Vessel is just a gorgeous spiralling thing that could have come off either of his first two albums and Maximum Sunlight is a sun dappled glint of a song with beautiful guitars and fascinating lyrical observations ("I said I love you to a fool").
It's these Stephen Steinbrink moments I live for. He repeatedly finds beauty in despair and on songs like Mom comes across as a latterday lo-fi Paul Simon, underplayed, poetic and evocative. Despite its disturbing backstory and more varied sound palette most of Utopia Teased is a delight.
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