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Going weightless with indie pop

The crystal clear pop of Stephen Steinbrink

Stephen Steinbrink makes absurdly pristine indie pop. Photo credit: Hannah Kline

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It used to be that singers would credit themselves by their own names, simply because they were the face and the voice given life by a seasoned songwriter. Annette Funicello was a pop darling, and her image was all the selling that was needed. It didn't matter what studio musicians constructed her hit songs, nor the dude that wrote the words and music. As time went along, genuinely good singer-songwriters started to eschew the standard of hiding behind a band or giving their songs to a starlet. Suddenly, people like Neil Diamond or Carole King could come forward and become sensations just through their artistry, not purely through their marketability.

At a certain point, the idea of a singer-songwriter began to take over, and all of the old notions of presentation and character changed. It became that the product was the thing. As silly as it may seem now, innate talent became a commodity, which paved the way for an era of singer-songwriters who succeeded on the merits of their abilities, and not on their selling potential as album cover models. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, singer-songwriters became guiding lights - a certainty in a world where bands and solo artists were guided by capitalism and the whims of producers and songwriters who had made their careers in the music industry.

Which brings me to Stephen Steinbrink (who is indeed a handsome man, lest that sentence about album covers be misconstrued). Steinbrink is an Olympia figure who has been making immaculate pop albums for years. While he has a band that records and tours with him, Steinbrink is the man responsible for the words and music that he presents under his own name. Though he may perform his own material by himself, he tends to perform with a band, and he never refers to it as anything other than Stephen Steinbrink (with a band).

There's a lightness to Steinbrink's material, an indie pop weightlessness that belies the sheer amount of precise instrumentation that takes up each song. The Shins are an easy connection to make, what with Steinbrink's perfect harmonies and the general tweeness that makes up most of the songs. Still, Steinbrink finds ways to harken back to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with pastoral sounds that emanate a ‘70s AM rock glow.

Steinbrink's most recent LP (Arranged Waves, which will soon get a follow-up) is his eighth album since emerging on the scene in 2007. That's an ambitious rate of output, especially considering the care that clearly goes into assembling these little pop gems. Far from being pinned down to any one style, the album has the confidence to do things like bounce from the airy folk of "Brand New Manic Brain Holder" to the bubbling light psychedelia of "Tangerine," which would find itself right at home as the moody centerpiece of a lost ‘60s psych-pop album. "It's So Pretty (What You Did For Me)," a chugging, lo-fi synth-rock number follows that up, and suddenly we're in the ‘90s, in Elephant 6 territory.

Thursday's show is the kickoff of a nationwide tour for Stephen Steinbrink and his band, which will find them covering an intimidating amount of cities in the month of April. Before Steinbrink leaves and finds further success across the country, I'd urge you to send him and his band off in style. At Obsidian, you'll see the work of a person who clearly has many more years of creative bursts in him, and if they continue to sound as gorgeous as Arranged Waves does, I predict that his star will only continue to rise.

Steinbrink, w/ Erica Freas, Reid Urban, Thursday, March 31, 9 p.m., $7, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425

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