Who's the greatest enemy of the Santiago Steps? Apparently the Santiago Steps themselves. Gander at the track notes they sent along with their new CD, and you'll see evidence that they're trying to make themselves critic-proof by getting nasty all over their own selves before anybody else has the chance. They use adjectives like “lazy,” “clichd” and “dismaying.” They pen embarrassing admissions like “the ending kind of goes to hell” and “I thought 'ether' rhymed with 'leather'.” For their tune “The World's a Go,” they plead that listeners will “hopefully forgive us the aural clich of having the bongos show up in the verse on Africa.” (“My engineering limitations should be, by this point in the album, apparent,” scrawls main Stepper Chris Davidson, clearly an attempt to distract from his truer, superhero-like record-making skills.) And this is all in just explaining the first four songs—later, they bluntly admit they “have no original ideas.” All lies, of course, for this is actually a perfect pop album to jump-start the summer with, filled with sweet little sonic accoutrements like melodicas, trumpets, hand-claps and the breezy voice of Chris' wife Carolyn. There's a nice girl-on-a-beach song; a taste of light funk on “Come On” (which their A&R guy would surely demand be this album's first single—if they hadan A&R guy); “Breathing Still,” a song written for a death penalty moratorium benefit that weirdly reminds us of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (it mustbe the melodica); and “At the Ring Toss,” what we consider to be the record's centerpiece (even if it's the next-to-last song), a three-minutes-thirty-seconds assemblage that turns an innocent carny game at the OC fair into the stuff of high drama, with a spoken monologue, even. It's kind of like their “A Quick One (While He's Away),” only without the hot extramarital sex.

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