The Santiago Steps


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Much like the accompanying cover art photographs of dioramas, the Santiago Steps' debut, A-flutter, is a tiny delight of an album. Favoring tight, creatively arranged, melodic pop, this California band mixes distorted and jangly guitars with other sounds such as trumpet, harp, and drum machines. It is unclear who plays what, though, as they only list last names on the inner CD sleeve, with no instrument correlations. In any case, they have a lead male vocalist who sounds something like J. Mascis and a female vocalist who sounds like Aimee Mann's younger sister. At first listen, the lo-fi quality of the tracks may seem a bit throwaway, but it is clear that a lot of thought went into these arrangements. The overall effect is something like Blake Babies meets Sebadoh. The lyrics don't disappoint, either. They fluctuate from the memorably cheeky "Nerd Rock Girl" (which begins, "The new metal gods drive big trucks/And the girls with hot bods can have the boys with big bucks/But I'm your nerd rock girl") to the unforgettably twee "Wake" (with its nose-scrunchingly cute imperative, "The gardener to the closed-up flowers, 'Wake, wake, wake'"). Similarly, "Parrots in Orange Trees" is a surrealistic power pop rave-up about the emotions of first love. Some attempts are made at draping A-flutter in the arty concept of a diorama -- as the song "Diorama," with its spoken counting, nearly bookends the album. Art school conceits aside, this is a promising start. Big Star fanatics should check out the spacy cover of "I'm in Love With a Girl."

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