By Mike Shanley
Youngstown doesn’t typically appear in sentences with the adjective “dreamy.” But the word aptly describes the sounds created at Peppermint Productions, the studio in that Ohio city where Stutter Steps recorded its latest album. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Ben Harrison, who spends most of his time as the Curator of Performing Arts at the Andy Warhol Museum, the band excels at dreamy indie pop built on layers of guitars, some droning keyboards and healthy dose of reverb. Anthony LaMarca, of War On Drugs, produced the album, which continues Harrison’s approach that takes inspiration from bands like the Velvet Underground and the multiple projects of Dean Wareham. The rich, reverberating sound of the album recalls indie producer Kramer’s knob turning with Wareham’s first band, Galaxie 500 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. While that band’s singer had more of a reedy voice, Harrison’s voice has a stronger quality that makes you want to dig through the reverb to get a better read on his lyrics.
Some of the early tracks on the album have a similar quality in terms of tempo and basic structure. All are engaging, though the delivery makes them blend together a bit. “On Our Own” turns a corner by, ironically, slowing things down. By reducing the beats-per-minute, Harrison lets the music breathe more and creates a swirling soundscape. The song clocks in close to six minutes and none of that time is wasted. The energy carries over into the next track, “Been Here” which takes off at a quicker clip. Throughout Reeling, Harrison and LaMarca build arrangements with multiple guitar parts. Sometimes the results come in single note lead lines, while at other times, walls of feedback linger in the background, to relax the ears instead of jarring them. The intro to “It’s Waiting” has a sweet-meets-harsh feeling of My Bloody Valentine. But the subtlety and understatement are key to the album’s success. Even when things get loud, they still feel gentle.