The Santiago Steps hail from Orange County, California, which is stereotypically home of everything that is unholy about the Golden State: Mindless upper-class consumer culture, Disneyland, Bob Dornan, No Doubt. The Santiago Steps are not unholy, but there’s no question, listening to some of the undeniably odd tracks to be found in A-flutter, that living in a sun-bright plastic world has given their collective brain something of a twist. In this case, the question is, in which direction is the twist going?
Take “No More Clones.” “I don’t want a new mom, I want the one I know,” singer Carolyn Davidson complains, sweetly. “No more clones, please.” A complaint about a culture in which wives and mothers are interchangeable and to be replaced when they start to wrinkle and leather? Or simply a repurposed college-era science fiction short story? Geeks or satirists? Nerds or social commentators?
Actually there’s no reason they can’t be both. Carolyn Davidson freely admits her geeky leanings: “I’m your nerd rock girl,” she trills in the aptly named “Nerd Rock Girl,” trying to keep the attention of a faithless boy pining for that popular girl by noting (all-too-correctly) “she will never leave the biker for you.” Just what every boy wants: A girl who knows her place in your affections, and uses it passively-aggressively to keep you around. So alluring. So scary.
But at the same time, The Santiago Steps recount suburban scenes that most of us who lived there at one point or another have had. “The Frisbee Slide,” perfectly observes suburban kids doing a truly stupid thing for no good reason — in this case, launching themselves down the street on a Frisbee set on the ground. These experiments in inertia end badly, of course, with a litany of snapped wrists and munched BMX wheel spokes, but before that bad end comes the moment of grace: “for that second when you were sliding/ Their voices blurred and your face disappeared/ And for that second man you weren’t hiding/ The world was aching no pretending at all.” If you ask the kid with the snapped wrist, he probably would have told you that moment made it worth it.
The Santiago Steps find a lot of these moments of grace, dusty diamonds they find in the suburban rain gutters, and they’re sufficiently socially maladapted to be curious enough to reach down and pick them out. “Parrots in Orange Trees” is in its entirety a paean to one of those moments, a refutation of bad vibes, brought on by a randomly plucked citrus fruit. The Santiago Steps are smart to know these moments don’t last (nor do they think they’re universally accessible, as the creepy downer track “Two of Me” goes to show), but also smart to know to treasure them for what they are. Even in a plastic paradise, you can be genuinely happy, from time to time.
A-flutter, as an album, is kind of a messy composition — aside these moments of grace are a few too many aimless tracks (two versions of the pointless instrumental “Diorama,” plus the ska-soaked jam “So. Street Riot,” which sounds like a Plimsouls soundcheck with a random saxophonist that stepped off the street). And production-wise, the album’s a bit sloppy and unrehearsed, as if the band could only pay for one run-through per song.
But here’s a thought from the wistful and surprisingly beautiful album closer “Wake”: “There are prices you can learn to love to pay.” For a certain class of suburbanites, current or former (and for all geeks), A-flutter is going to wake up parts of your brain you thought you’d shut down for good. That’s worth a certain percentage of filler. There’s also the fact that on CDBaby, the album’s currently selling for $5. Interesting at twice the price, A-flutter’s a steal for this amount.
This review originally appeared on IndieCrit.com — Independent Reviews of Independent MusicPowered by Sidelines