For Fans Of
When I first hit play on Stepson’s third EP, ‘The Beautiful Lie’, I had to double take to make sure that I had actually been sent the correct files. I opened up my emails, scrolled back through my inbox to find the email with the Google Drive link, I then re-downloaded the EP and I hit play once again. Yep, sure enough, I had downloaded the right files the first time around and rip my dick off and call me Sally, this new EP is such a far cry from the Stepson I had come to know and love!
If you’re familiar with the band’s first two EP’s – 2014’s decent ‘Broken Bottles/Drunken Hearts‘ and 2015’s superb ‘Echoes In An Empty Room‘ – then this will not be the Stepson you remember. In terms of the production, the instrumentation, and the genre, this release is a massive step away from their melodic hardcore sound. There is next to no screaming here (save for the middle section of ‘Smother‘), just plenty of vocal layering and clean singing from vocalist Brock Conry, who’ll serenade you with his emotive and heartfelt lyrics – the only returning element from their first two EP’s. There are no heavy guitar riffs here, only clean, ambient guitars, all dripping in delay and reverb. There’s no breakdowns nor any fast drumming or even any live/acoustic drums for that matter. In their place instead is only triggered percussion with atmospheric pads and synth coming out of the wazoo. But no matter what you’re hearing on this EP, all of it carries a beautiful sense of spatiality and ambience.
“We recorded our 3rd EP in June down at Avalanche Studios in Melbourne with our go-to guy, Callan [Orr]. I think Never Mind Me was a pretty good amalgamation of the first 2 EP’s but this new one, while not a direction change by any means, is something we feel to be completely fresh, both compared to past Stepson releases and other releases you may have heard come out in 2016.”
God, you have no idea how many times I’ve seen something similar written in the press releases I get on the daily or how many times I’ve had answers like that spouted at me in interviews; “Yeah man, our new album will be different from the last one and will be a really good progression of our sound!”
No! No, it’s fucking not, mate! It’s nearly the exact same bloody thing that you guys did last time, you fucking glue stick. Those immensely subtle differences in your band’s songwriting or the releases production and mix were barely bloody noticeable half the time. I mean, yeah, I do understand why bands say things like that, plus some artists out there really need to tell themselves that just so they can sleep soundly at night. However! In the curious case of Stepson, that answer was long and far from a mere hype-game mentality or your generic interview answer from a band member who really shouldn’t be taking the interviews; it was the actual truth!
‘The Beautiful Lie‘ really is fresh, different, and indeed a direction change when compared with not only the band’s prior work but the recent works of their peers as well. When you consider this EP in the larger framework of the band’s releases, it’s sound is akin to the brief ‘Cold Water‘ interlude from ‘Echoes In An Empty Room‘ and the closest band/release I can liken this EP to, within the local alternative/heavy music scene anyway, is that of Storm The Sky’s ‘Sin Will Find You’. Even then that’s not that complete of a comparison, though. Going off of Stepson’s first two EP’s and previous single, ‘Never Mind Me’, this three-track release comes so bloody far out of left-field that you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone dun goofed on the YouTube or iTunes upload (like I did initially) but no, this is Stepson capping off 2016 in stellar fashion with something that’s well and truly unexpected.
Now, to be fair, with only having three songs and barely ten minutes on the clock, the band have left themselves very little room for error but that also means that this EP maintains the always crucial element of having quality over quantity. The title track is the first song off the ranks and it’s a minimal, trendy pop song that you’d likely hear from artists like Michael Barr (yes, as in the ex-Volumes singer) or New Zealand queen Lorde, from the edited vocal samples, the minimal percussion, the soft vocals to all of the FX used. By any “mainstream” artist, this would still be a good song yet the sheer fact that this came from Stepson, of all the fucking bands, is what makes it stand out even more so. Second up is the internally focused ‘Leave Me Alone‘, which features a great guest spot from Eat Your Heart Out’s Caitlin Henry, whose soft and soothing yet quintessentially Australian vocal timbre gels so well with Conry’s vocals and the song’s overall dynamic soundscape. Finally, ‘Smother‘, which as I mentioned previously, is the only song here with any “heavy” elements present, and even then is a great example of this band’s knack for writing near-objectively great songs; heavy or otherwise. This was true with ‘TV‘ and it’s most certainly true here.
Personally, I love it when bands change up their sound. We’ve seen this with bands like My Chemical Romance, Bring Me The Horizon, Ocean Grove, Linkin Park, and many, many others. Even if I don’t like the direction that said change takes (see: Tonight Alive’s ‘Limitless‘) or if I do really dig the band’s new direction (see: MCR’s ‘Danger Days‘), the change is always appreciated nonetheless – as it shows a yearning for variation, expansion and not wanting to rest on one’s laurels. And change is indeed the name of the game for Stepson’s third EP; a wondrously dynamic and utterly gorgeous trio of songs that makes for one grand ambient-pop experience.
Perhaps the greatest thing about ‘The Beautiful Lie’ is that I know that Stepson will continue to progress and diversify their music into both heavier and non-heavier routes and that this release is but a quick pit-stop on that larger musical journey. Despite the fact that this new EP is just here to fill in time between 2015’s ‘Echoes In An Empty Room’ and the band’s inevitable full-length album next year (which I’m sure will be killer), I’ll fucking take it! As it’s a damned good fill-in at that, and it shows a band that is genuinely challenging the perceptions of their own sound. Plus, they’re also doing it really bloody well too!
- The Beautiful Lie
- Leave Me Alone (feat. Caitlin Henry of Eat Your Heart Out)
‘The Beautiful Lie’ is out December 15th (cover done by Alex Richardson). Pre-order it here. I look forward to Stepson’s next 30 Seconds To Mars homage, ‘The Killed’. Also, is it just me or does the below music video not look like a trendy reboot of the Step Up franchise?