Suburban Sinister

THE SANTIAGO STEPS
A-flutter (10-track CD)

Were infamous musicologist Stanley Laughner writing this review of the Santiago Steps, he'd undoubtedly make something of the reference to the Chilean metropolis, lightly salting it with an Augusto Pinochet allegory and a brief monologue about how the Santiago Steps' music is akin to hearing two vastly different sociopolitical orthodoxies engaging in a frothy debate—how the sounds they produce are neither far-left nor far-right but forward, eager to satisfy the aural appetites of all who are willing to give of themselves, if just for a scant half-hour, for the revolution.

It's certainly a more romantic moniker than Big Saver, the pop-o-riffic band from which the Santiago Steps evolved. Like that combo, the Santiago Steps know how to pen smart, visual lyrics ("Pixie girl scout on her Razor glides/Down the sidewalk towards us where our love resides"—this from the enigmatically titled "Parrots in Orange Trees," something of a driving rocker). You'd think the tune "No More Clones" would be a sort of freaky sci-fi epic, but it gets even more suburbanly sinister when singer Carolyn Davidson creepily coos the line "Daddy drives us children home/We left Mommy in the loading zone." Loading? As in "getting loaded"? Like on heroin? Something ominous is going down 'round here!

But it's not all about suspense. Davidson comes across as sweetly vulnerable on "Nerd Rock Girl" ("The new-metal gods drive big trucks/And the girls with hot bods can have the boys with big bucks/But I'm your nerd rock girl"). And there's an innocence in a lot of their songs, several of which are about children. "The Frisbee Slide," which has a husky punk rock backbeat, appears to be about the stupid, dangerous yet thrilling stunts kids do in pursuit of fun, which reminded us of the time we tried to roller skate down a dirt-bike ramp. It was a blast until we fell and snapped our right wrist.

Elsewhere, we enjoyed "So. Grand Riot," a sax-driven instrumental that sounded like a great surf tune only without the rubbery surf guitar; "Two of Me," an ultrajangly ode to schizophrenia (perhaps); and the moody evocativeness and slow-building beauty of "Diorama," which is really nothing more than Davidson counting off 1-2-3-4 as gentle musical saws and sad, dreamy wisps of wonderment fill your ears. It's real purty. All that and an Alex Chilton cover to boot—such impeccable taste!

Info: rock@thesantiagosteps.com; www.thesantiagosteps.com. The Santiago Steps perform at Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace, 1773 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 645-5550. Feb. 1, 9 p.m. Free. All ages. OC and Long Beach bands and musicians! Mail your CDs and tapes (along with your vital contact info, plus any impending performance dates) for possible review to: Locals Only,OC Weekly, P.O. Box 10788, Costa Mesa, CA 92627-0247.
 
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