Kick To Kick With The Steinbecks
More than just a comeback for the brothers behind The Sugargliders, the new Steinbecks album overflows with a love of music itself, writes DOUG WALLEN.
?We’ve got all the tunes, honey,? brags a line from The Steinbecks? first album in seven years. It’s not the band’s own tunes being boasted of, but rather a record collection that will hold you up when a breakup knocks you back. Name-checking The Cure, Pavement, The Smiths and many more in a spoken-word breakdown, ?Through the Curtain? also squeezes in cracked vocals, jazzy drums and the Aztec Camera-style flamenco guitar licks echoing Josh and Joel Meadows? prior band, early-?90s Sarah Records favourites [The Sugargliders](/icons/4531426).
It’s one of several songs here gushing about music itself. Dedicated to the Meadowses? late cousin, the closing ?Kick to Kick? is about music as a means of bonding, even in death. The single ?I, Radio?, meanwhile, bottles the sheer infectiousness of hearing, loving and spreading new music, teeming with over-the-top first-person enthusiasm and tracing a personal path of discovery from the mainstream to the underground to talk radio as one ages. The references fly fast, spanning beloved acts (Jonathan Richman, The Moles, R.E.M., Billy Bragg) and a pointed jab at Triple J, and the song even breaks down the physics of the listening experience, from the needle on the vinyl to the radio transmission to the cochlea. Of course, it’s also a radio-friendly pop gem in its own right.
Such earnestness can grate in some bands, but the Meadowses have always wielded it well. While their songs aren’t saccharine they are sincere, with a fondness for romantic imagery. The album’s very opening is a kind of pop-song postcard: ?I saw two lovers farewell on the platform/Arms and lips displacing words today.? And yet the song is about a lost moment that can’t be had again, rather than sighing over the dreamy perfection of the thing. Try to recreate something like that and it’s never exactly as we remember it. That song, ?Homesickness?, should still appeal to Sugargliders fans, but it immediately shows the difference between the Meadowses? two bands: besides being built to last in comparison to the quite fleeting Sugargliders, The Steinbecks tend towards scrappy power-pop more than the tender purity of the former band.
?They’re happy to bash about, try new things and see if anyone is up for having a listen.?
They’re constantly playful too, free to take risks and have obvious fun making a record. After all, with seven years having elapsed since [Far from the Madding Crowd](https://popboomerangrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pb037-the-steinbecks-far-from-the-madding-crowd), The Steinbecks needn’t worry about catering to some clamouring audience. Self-recording in Melbourne and their regional bases of Castlemaine and Kyneton, they’re just happy to bash about, try a few new things, stay away from too much polish and see if anyone is up for having a listen. You can hear that no-pressure air in the Kraut-y groove and surprise falsetto of ?Burning Holes in the Sun?, its peaceful reprise immediately after, the garage-roughened ?We Cannot Hope to Compete with Such Colours?, the stop-start organ and twang of ?Blow the Limen? and the Smiths-indebted ?Trying to be Someone?, the latter penned by part-time drummer Joseph Bromley. Much like the way they cycle through their record collections for unabashed inspiration, the band – including bassist/keyboardist Matthew Sigley and principal drummer Jerry Rinse – run with any idea that appeals to them.
Still, within all that variety, lovers of The Lucksmiths, Darren Hanlon and the whole Candle Records canon will especially warm to the sparse ukulele strains of ?Semblance of Hope? and the poetic lyrics, delicate whisper and overlapping harmonies of the standout ?Cold Little Bones?. Everything comes together best on [last year’s single](/news/4602164) ?At Arkaroo Rock?, a gorgeous ballad inspired by the titular landmark in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges that’s home to ancient cave paintings. It’s about accepting one’s brief flicker in time when faced with something eternal by comparison: ?Decades measure my time/Here it’s centuries.?
Likewise, The Steinbecks may measure their time in [albums](http://thesteinbecks.net.au/records) – as opposed to The Sugargliders, who only released [7?s](http://www.thesteinbecks.net.au/sugargliders) – but the Meadowses don’t take their newer band’s longevity for granted. After so long between albums, they sound pleased to have any time in front of however many people turn up to hear them. And whoever does end up discovering this record – fans new or old – the take-home here is that after decades of playing together, Josh and Joel Meadows haven’t lost their giddy enthusiasm for music. For making it, discovering it and saluting it in the hallowed space of a pop song.