Finally, a new record to file in between Rotary Connection and Sly Stone: The Stepkids are serving up psych pop with a tight, funky rhythm section, and crunchy waves of keys and guitar — but they’re also subverting the pleasant music with confusing and dark images. On first listen, you’re transported to a time when aromas of incense and peppermints wafted through the vents of candy-colored convertibles. But the nostalgia only goes so far, and as the lyrics bubble to the surface, it’s clear that these Stepkids are using the tropes of surrealism to cushion the blows of an umbilical-cord-severing therapy session.
It takes a while for the onslaught of Bee-Gees-inspired vocals to make this clear. At first just a few shards of the quietly mixed lyrics pierce the album-length fever dream: friendly Tylenol, felt like novocaine, roam around that northern plain, brain ninja.
But the blurry and focused images crash on the peaceful and frightening, “La La,” which alters between verses describing remembrances in the face of a violent death and choruses made up of la las. For example, See you screaming in my window/The flame has reached your hair/The edge is right before us/As we’re helpless in the air/la-l-l la-l-l la-la la-la laa-laah-laaah. The lilting funk track “Suburban Dream” contains a more concrete image of separation: Walking away/Away from the land/Away from your mom/And the old man. Seems like some Proustian mac-n-cheese set these Stepkids off, and it may take a while for the stench of stale incense and bitter breathmints to wear off. Thankfully, the exorcizing of demons has rarely sounded so good. (Stones Throw)