PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Steve Burns: Songs for Dustmites

Brian Houston

Steve Burns

Songs for Dustmites

Label: PIAS America
US Release Date: 2003-08-12
UK Release Date: Available as import

Steve Burns was the host of Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues for six years. Blues Clue's, for the uninitiated, was an incredibly popular children's show in which Burns donned a green rugby shirt (every episode) and led children in a search of a hiding (or missing, it was never clear) cartoon dog named Blue. The search for the cartoon dog involved the discovery and analysis of many clues with Burns serving as the brains of the dog search and rescue operation.

2003 finds Burns and the rest of the Blue's Clues franchise in retirement, so Burns has done what so many other children television hosts have done in the past -- recruited Steve Drozd of the Flaming Lips to back him on an indie-rock album that is primarily produced by another Lips mainstay, Dave Fridmann.

If you are wondering what the hell is going on here, you are not alone. Thinking about this project before hearing a single note of the record leads one to come up with two explanations for how and why this record came about. One possibility is that Burns is some sort of musical genius who, up until now, has never been given the opportunity to share his musical gift with the public because he has been too busy tracking down lost dogs. The second possibility is that the Lip's franchise -- who have always had a tendency to be indiscriminate in the projects, tours, and partnerships they take on -- decided that playing on a record with the Blue's Clues guy would be awesome, so they showed up and put their otherworldly spin on what would have undoubtedly been an otherwise uneventful album.

The truth is probably somewhere in between these two explanations. There are songs on Songs for Dustmites that really shine. "Troposphere" is easily the album's best song, a sweet song of catchy indie-pop that is bolstered by unmistakably Lips-ish effects. "Mighty Little Man" starts off the record with boisterous bass and drums that sound as if they were lifted straight off of the Flaming Lip's last album. The fury of noise available on "Mighty Little Man" is incredible, but the inability of Burns's voice to keep up with everything the Lips team is throwing at the young man reminds the listener that this is not a Flaming Lips album; it is a Steve Burns album. So while many of the songs are enjoyable ("What I Do on Saturday", "Maintain"), it is uncertain if these songs are enjoyable simply because the record sounds like a Lip's album, and it is hard to tell what, if anything, Burns is bringing to the table. Is this an album of Burns's vision? Is the record simply bolstered by the Lip's contributions, or does the presence of the Lip's on the record turn a run-of-the-mill indie-rock record into something much more?

Perhaps an answer to these questions can be found by looking at the tracks on the album that are not permeated by Lip's effects. "A Reason" is a decidedly un-Lips track; the song is subtle and mellow, full of regret and uncertainty. This track is simple and fresh, it does not feel like a Lip's song and yet it is very nice, evidence that Burns can stand on his own. But this is the only example of that ability on the record. The other tracks that are thin on Lip's contributions are much less successful. "Songs for Dustmites", the album's namesake, is unfortunate. An earnest ballad with heavy piano, the song fails probably because earnest ballads are rarely successful. "> 1" is another easy and simple track, but it doesn't offer anything new to set itself apart from the hordes of singer-songwriters who pollute the landscape of local bars. "Stick Around" fails for similar reasons.

Overall, Songs for Dustmites is a nice record that has many strong moments. Taken as a whole, without consideration of who is contributing and what those contributions mean, the record is interesting indie-pop with excellent production and a range of sounds. The album is approachable and pleasant. Whether or not this appeal has anything to do with Steve Burns will be evident when Burns offers future work, presumably without indie superstars doing all of the heavy lifting. Songs for Dustmites is a successful album, but the caveat will always be that the reason for the success lies with the Lips contributions and not with Burns's talent or vision. This was the gamble Burns made by calling in the big dogs his first time out. But Burns will not be able to hide forever. Eventually he will have to stand on his own, and only then will we know if he has what it takes to leave his canine rescue days behind him for good.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.