The Stepkids takes a roundabout route to making its music sound avant-garde, filtering a retro aesthetic through a film of electricity. White boy classical soul à la the Jay Vons becomes electrified neo-soul of the new millennium when songs like “La La” digress into tinkling chimes, the whirr of something distinctly machine-like and the pulsing hum of a laser gun. The band records on reel-to-reel to maintain a warm vinyl sound and constructs its own light show, which it projects onto the players’ all-white outfits during live performances. The members of the Stepkids may be the children of soul, funk and psychedelia, but they were raised by electro.
Comparisons to bass guru Thundercat‘s four-week-old solo debut, The Golden Age Of Apocalypse, feel obvious or inevitable, at least because they are progressive in similar retro ways: solid musicianship, a taste for soul-filled psychedelia, a touch of electricity and sonic meandering. While Thundercat played for Erykah Badu and thrash band Suicidal Tendencies, members of the Stepkids have toured with Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and the punk-ish group Zox. The Stepkids, like Thundercat, makes music that spans not only genres but generations—just the right touch of blip and synth for this century and enough soul and “real” instrumentats to earn the group chops in the eyes of the last.
Next to the other artists on Stones Throw’s lineup, the Stepkids feels at times a half-step out of place; or at least, three white guys playing woozy indie doo-wop are a few steps away from Dilla. In Stones Throw terms, with a pastiche of influences and an undercurrent of indie rock, the Stepkids is kind of like a band of James Pantses minus 90 percent of the DJ equipment. And then there are times, like “Santos And Ken,” when the trio sounds like it’s made up of three goons who crawled out of the Mothership dressed in white jeans instead of Soul Train funkadelic threads to noodle on a synth and a horn (which in Stones Throw terms might sound like Dam-Funk).
The Stepkids‘ two singles, “Shadows On Behalf” and “Legend In My Own Mind,” give the impression of a light-headed and slightly electrified neo-soul record. That’s not far off. Still, certain moments, like the opening and closing tracks, reach a little further past doo-woppish hippie funk into Ravi Shankar super-hippie sitar and ambient electro, suggesting a potential for experimentation in the second year of the Stepkids’ existence.