Stepdad “Ordinaire” EP review

pictures and video by Kat Kanan (check out her music here!)/ article by August Smith

Objectively, the members of Stepdad would make pretty cool step-dads. Besides having stage names like video game bosses, Ultramark, Cobrazebra, and Optimus Fives make the musical equivalent of MGMT on a cartoon-and-sugar high; synth tunes as sweet as candy and as retro as a Ring Pop, a caramelized gem of the Michigan music scene.

Stepdad is originally the creation of Ultramark and Cobrazebra, Chicagoan roommates who started writing songs together and soon relocated to Grand Rapids. After recording and releasing their first EP, Ordinaire, to an overwhelmingly positive public reaction, the duo incorporated bassist Optimus Fives and started infecting the live circuit with their 8-bit power pop jams. The group also received some heavy blog-hype when they recorded a theme song for the popular (and wonderfully bizarre) webcomic “Axe Cop.” The blend of ridiculous and over-the-top action movie tropes and vintage 80’s synth-swashes was a perfect fit for the webcomic, and was quickly adopted and supported by the creators.

Stepdad is currently working on their first album and can be seen playing shows all over the lower peninsula. Judging from these pictures, they seem to put on a damn good live show and should not be missed.

Ordinaire review

Do you remember that distinctly 1990’s feeling of opening a brand new pack of Pokémon cards? Tearing that glistening foil away and flipping through each card, one by one, slightly giddy, those four dollars you just spent now a distant memory? That feeling is Ordinaire, the debut EP from Stepdad. Bubbling over with colors and familiarity, rife with twists and turns to keep things from going stale or seeming superficial, and “catchy as AIDS” (their words, not mine), Ordinaire is an exciting debut from a group blazing its way onto party playlists all over the US.

The EP opener, “Jungles”, stands out mostly as a stylistic outlier from the rest of the tunes. Down tempo, a hint of sorrow in the backing vocals, and a concentration on rhythm- a chugging, tribal beat- march on as the heroic chorus chants “We belong to places/ Strong and brave, courageous/ Our tiger faces.” “Jungles” is a sneaky beast- just when you think you have shaken it, you find yourself humming that chorus like reprogrammed robot, bouncing your head to the battle-ready beat. “Squares” then kicks off the Super NES-themed party that Stepdad had held subdued on the first song, and the listener gets a taste for the multi-layered synths and catchy vocal melodies. “Wolf Slaying as a Hobby” is a personal favorite, simplistic and infectious and reminiscent of Anamanaguchi with some seriously excellent vocals- the song is already a contagious mainstay in my psyche.

Then arrives “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails”- the metaphorical holographic Charizard of the package. An entire room of synths slap the melody back and forth, shimmering and punching, complete with a seriously well-earned key-change and lyric breakdown (the music video, with an impressive 30k views, is fantastic too). The song verges on being too much, so the next track (“Cutie Boots”) is an appreciated hypnotic slowdown, and the acoustic guitar is a welcome stranger here. “Baby Hammers” is a disco-y little groove, hushed and on the verge of armageddon, “Parrots” a quiet, tropical music-box melody, and “Kings and Centipedes” sounds like something directly lifted from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and given to Passion Pit for an hour.

The re-release of the EP contains two new songs that could hint at new directions for their upcoming album. “Find Love” has a heartbeat similar to “Jungles,” with a huge eyes-cast-skyward chorus and some added concentration on live drums (courtesy of their new band member and drummer, Jeremy Malvin). “Magic Stones” has one of the best vocal melodies that the group has ever utilized, and is really hooky to boot.

Grab the remastered EP at their website or on iTunes, and check out their Facebook and MySpace for tour dates and information!