Best New Music: Stephen Steinbrink – “Arranged Waves”


Inspired by years travel across North America and Europe, Olympia-based singer-songwriter Stephen Steinbrink crafts wistful, introspective pop rock songs on his latest album Arranged Waves. Here, the Arizona native’s sublimely meditative tunes are brought to life by a cast of Olympia musicians including Tom Filardo, Jen Grady of You Are Plural, and LAKE members Ashley Erikson, Eli Moore, and Andrew Dorsett.

Steinbrink and company deliver delicate arrangements and songwriting that resonates deeply and lingers in the mind. Each tune conveys a melancholic sense of departure and reflection, evoking the solitude of a train ride across some European countryside. On “It Takes a Lot to Change a Mind,” Stenbrink offers his simple realizations: “You can’t touch what isn’t real/You can’t describe the sublime/You can’t force what isn’t there.”

Such poignant writing shows Steinbrink as a potent cultural observer, inspired as much by his 13 years of extensive travel as by the desolate suburban landscape of his youth.

“I grew up in Phoenix; it’s bleakness through and through. A de-centralized suburb of nothing,” he said. “There are so many ghosts of the recession—the bowling alley I went to as a kid has been abandoned. Friends’ houses have been bulldozed. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a burning down house while stuck in traffic. All these empty buildings from my childhood are unsettling and symbolic of something, but I don’t know what. I need to write more songs to figure that out.”

Throughout, clear song structures and clean, uncluttered arrangements display a distinguished sense of simplicity. Sonically the aesthetic has much in common with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, with deliberate pace and undeniable melodies. Meanwhile echoes of Americana come through in Steinbrinks’ plainspoken delivery and meandering slide-guitar lines, such as on “Brand New Manic Brain Holder,” and “Sand Mandalas.” Elsewhere strolling loops of guitar and electronics combine for a psychedelic atmosphere, bringing in field recordings from locations as disparate as Graz, Austria and a Greyhound from Chicago to Ann Arbor.