Arizona-based songwriter Stephen Steinbrink has spent the last eight years making records that pull from Nick Drake’s subtle interiors, Arthur Russell’s pop heart and Elliott Smith’s bracing vulnerability. His latest album, Arranged Waves, can be found at his bandcamp page, where it can be streamed free of charged as well as purchased in various formats. It is a splendid advancement, with precision lyricism and flawless delivery.
On his previous full-length release, I Drew A Picture, his trademark intimacy is let out into the barren desert landscape. The album does not signal the sudden maturation of a self-anointed troubadour. Instead, it’s the result of a prolific, unimpeachable songwriting craft being refined with every release.
Steinbrink has previously released four full-length LPs under the moniker French Quarter, as well as a trove of small-run cassettes, CD-Rs and a VHS tape. He has also performed in acts ranging from pop veteran Katy Davidson (Key Losers/Dear Nora) to the cacophonous punk of Pigeon Religion. In keeping with his obsessive home-recorded output, I Drew a Picture broadens his established template of tarnished folk and bedroom pop introspection with delicate synths, propulsive drums and the kind of affecting chord progressions that rumble between relief and sad realization.
The songs are Steinbrink’s most ambitious in composition and lyrical poignancy, bereft of naïve splendor or artificial specters, taking to task the cult of dying young. I Drew a Picture feels like cut ties. Contemplations on a beachless strip mall expanse. Alienation punctuated by digital snares. Passing on evenings of thinly-veiled promise, knowing how good it felt to stay home.