Eight years ago, the Houston Press reviewed this EP called InfraRed IntroSpective (IRIS for short) from a local singer/guitarist named Steve Steele. "Steele's stylishness verges on nostalgia more often than even he knows," we wrote, adding that his music owes a lot to '80s British New Wave.
"If this were 1985, Steele would be the shit," we wrote. "But this is 2002, and Steele is just gonna have to settle for being one interesting white dude."
While Chatter thought our criticism was (as always) constructive, Steele didn't see it that way. In fact, we believe he wanted to knock the shit out of us.
Thankfully, Steele cooled down and realized he was aping other artists in order to attract listeners, instead of conceiving his own sound. Eventually, he saw the review as a wake-up call of sorts.
"Yes, the IRIS review was just a small review about an unknown musician," says the born-and-bred Houstonian. "But you called me out, and that was the best thing you could have done because I will never sell out again."
Cut to today. Steele has been busy promoting his just-released, full-length album, The Expat (Ultraviolet Catastrophe). Deeply personal, thematically offbeat and, more importantly, quite distinctive, Expat ditches the Brit New-Wave sound for a harder-edged, post-punk, dark-wave feel, complete with Bowie-esque vocals.
From the way Steele talks about the album, it's easy to understand why it took him so long to release it.
"The Expat, the music and narrative, it's a dream," he explains. "The very first sound you hear is your brain going into REM sleep, and the very last sound you hear is you waking up."
"The angles that all of the lines form on the front cover, the ambigram name, the songs in threes and the abrupt endings are all signs that it's all a dream," he adds.
It's not only a dream, Steele says, but a very calculated one. He explains that the album is 40 minutes in length because he used the mathematical golden ratio to measure everything.
"It's a puzzle, but I just can't come out and say that," he explains. "Hopefully, the music is 'pop' enough that people will listen, and then maybe, if they like it enough, they'll sense the patterns and understand the story."
Expat is just the first of three acts, says Steele. This summer, he'll start working on the next one, Small Hours, which he promises will be just as dense and daring.
"I'm a big-picture guy," he says. "Writing a song — anyone can do that, pretty much. But creating large, multilayered structures, just like some of your favorite films, that's what it's all about for me."
The Austin City Limits Music Festival (www.aclfestival.com) released its 2010 lineup at midnight last Monday. Headlining this year are the Eagles, Muse and Phish, with M.I.A., the Strokes, Vampire Weekend, Spoon, Band of Horses, LCD Soundsystem and the National also among the 130 artists performing in Austin's Zilker Park October 8-10. Three-day passes are already sold out, but single-day passes are available for $85 on the festival's Web site. No Houston performers made the cut this year, but ACL acts with Houston connections include natives Robert Earl Keen and Carolyn Wonderland, as well as the Flaming Lips, Lucero and GIVERS, who are playing Free Press Summerfest in Eleanor Tinsley Park next weekend. There was some talk that ZZ Top might make this year's ACL cut, but instead Billy Gibbons's boogie chillun will open for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion September 24; tickets are on sale now at livenation.com. Not a bad consolation prize.
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1. Exodus, Exhibit B: Human Condition (CD)
2. Sun Ra, Space Is the Place (2XLP)
3. Magic Lantern, Platoon (LP/CD)
4. The National, High Violet (LP/CD)
5. At the Gates, The Flames of an End (DVD)
6. Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (CD)
7. Caribou, Swim (LP/CD)
8. Various Artists, Excavated Shellac: Strings (LP)
9. Woods, At Echo Lake (LP)
10. Various Artists, California Funk (LP)
1. Jerrod Niemann, "Lover, Lover"
2. Chris Young, "The Man I Want to Be"
3. Clay Walker, "She Won't Be Lonely Long"
4. Joe Nichols, "Gimmie That Girl"
5. Jason Aldean, "Crazy Town"
6. Easton Corbin, "A Little More Country Than That"
7. George Strait, "Gotta Get to You"
8. Lady Antebellum, "American Honey"
9. Jaron and the Long Road to Love, "Pray for You"
10. Miranda Lambert, "The House That Built Me"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)
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