It’s been three years (or about a decade in indie-band time) since we last spoke of the Seal Beach-based Santiago Steps. Their previous album, Points and Corners, warmed not only the hearts of us here at the Weekly, but also the innards of several music-oriented websites, both obscure and established. Such glowing reviews—which inspired critics to put the words “perfect” and “pop” next to each other on more than one occasion—only heightened my curiosity about their latest, Okay Okay Okay, which turns out to be a giant leap into the earnest and candid.
The pop aspect is still there, a much more respectable one in the classic Byrds-y sense than today’s more sparkle-and-fade mass-marketed definition. Previous references to Rilo Kiley now seem frivolous; the only similarities on Okay Okay Okay are within the track “Flatlands,” which keeps to the stylized RK formula of feather-light female vocals paired with slightly off-kilter lyrics, set to an enticingly upbeat backdrop. Now finding their own unique path, the Steps’ charm factor has gone off the charts. “Strange Obligation” matches a winsome, jumping riff with the comforting-but-not-too-comforting male/female vocals—brand it “heavy mellow.” The fact that they don’t quite harmonize perfectly reveals the group’s sincerely DIY tone. Coming dangerously close to all-out rawk, “Breaking Ranks” turns up the distortion, if only just a little (don’t want to get too rowdy, now). “What We Left in the Trunk” is straight from open-mic night; through acoustic guitars, with a quick nod from a horn section, the song tells an adorably devilish tale of running from the law. (Slight complaint: We never do find out what was in the trunk. Will there be a sequel on the next album?)
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