After a groundswell of support for their last EP, the electro-indie party songs of Stepdad are getting a full-length treatment. This isn’t music that will blow your mind, but it just might shake your ass.
Black Bell Records, 2012
7.4 / 10.0
I think when we look back on the last ten years, there will be a recognition of a certain class of artists whose origins can be found in dance underground groups like Gang of Four. These are musicians that make music you find right at home inside of a club, but is also treated with a certain depth that the typical club song never sees. Of course, this sort of ethos is (was) led today by LCD Soundsystem, but you can also find it like Hot Chip, Prinzhorn Dance School, Kyle Andrews and Girls. Stepdad is a group that fits in easily with the others. Formed in 2009, Chicago roommates Ryan McCarthy and ultramark began working on electro-pop recordings in their apartment. Beginning as a duo, the band expanded their lineup to include bassist Alex Fives and drummer Jeremy Malvin in 2010. In 2012, the band completed work on their debut full-length Wildlife Pop with producer Chris Zane (Walkmen, Le Savy Fav).
Upon a first listen to Wildlife Pop, it would be easy to write off the shimmering, bombastic electronic sounds as club fluff. Yet, as I continued to play the record, I got the feeling that these guys wouldn’t be caught dead in any club. Yes, they do share a lot aesthetically with the countless ranks of party musicians, but (much like James Murphy) Stepdad knows how to write interesting songs. The music is happy and accessible, but it is the lyrical content on Wildlife Pop that I really find interesting. Just consider this little stanza from “Will I Ever Dance Again”:
The wind is an insect with a bloodlust
Stinging with grey sheets of a thick dust
Lord, I need to find someone I can trust
This is just a random guess, but I doubt we’ll ever hear Carly Rae Jepsen deliver any lines like that. This is what I think makes Stepdad a closer spiritual cousin to those great Bowie & Eno Berlin records than any of the 80′s groups that it seems other people like to compare them with. Don’t get me wrong, Wildlife Pop is hardly an open experimentation in sound. That being said, there is a lot of interesting material to find on this record. Often times, the lyrical content is quite dark when paired up against the uber-bright aural content (“To Ribbons”, “Show Me Your Blood”). The contrast of content and the depth of vocabulary sets Stepdad far apart from…I don’t know…Gotye. Once you add in a very interesting mix of acoustic instrumentation with the electronics and now we are starting to talk. That is the sort of individuality that will likely keep me coming back to the record for years to come, when I’ll have forgotten their contemporaries’ names in six months.
I won’t pretend to be a fan of dance music. Most of the time, I would rather bang my head against a wall to the beat than listen to it. That makes the case only stronger for those records that I do enjoy. Stepdad clearly have an interest beyond the ass-shaking, coked out, neon light hedonism of the dance floor. They understand that you can fun and thoughtful at the same time. Furthermore, they sound utterly comfortable doing things their own way. Altogether, that makes Wildlife Pop a record I’ll be more than happy to come back and enjoy again, and again, and again.
“Must Land Running”
“Show Me Your Blood”
“My Leather, My Fur, My Nails”
Purchase Stepdad’s Wildlife Pop