Michigan indietronica outfit Stepdad’s first two releases, Ordinaire EP and 2012’s excellent Wildlife Pop, positioned Stepdad in a specific synthpop lane, one of thumping beats, wild-eyed synthesizers and unabashed joy, the soundtrack to a chunky man in shades and an undershirt just rocking out to the beat, dancing his way to the weekend. The Strange Tonight EP manages to stay within that lane, though with a welcome hint of experimentation.
The EP’s first half is pleasantly layered and recognizably Stepdad with its bassy thud, shimmering surfaces, baritone-and-falsetto vocals, and smattering of electro detritus. Elsewhere, the 8-bit power pop transmogrifies into 16-bit balladry with “It’s You” and “Evening at Marie’s”. The latter is one of the most sober tracks in the Stepdad catalog, and the lyrics are downright personal and contemplative. Think Passion Pit’s “Constant Conversations” but sped up, with a soaring red wine-doused chorus. “I see my nightmares coming true,” ultramark declares, his voice clear and earnest, before a heartfelt refrain that alternates lines like “I promise I’ll do what I can” and “I’m just a man” with “keep the devil out of my hands”. It’s a step away from the high-flying over-the-topness of “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails”, but it works, and the second half of Strange Tonight demonstrates the wide potential for Stepdad’s aesthetic, even if it doesn’t quite capture the overall joyfulness of previous releases.
This is Stepdad’s third offering in 4 years and, so far, their record is spotless. There’s not a bad release among them, which should be grounds enough for a half dozen Grammys and a stint as Seth Meyers’ house band.