03 October 2011

Stephen Vs Stephen: "And Yet EP"

I think it is only musicians (especially prior to the mid-90s) that swear musical purity, as they swaggered about swearing they were in one genre or other, this scene or that, and treaded around criticisms if they ever deviated from their self-imposed labels. Music fans, on the other hand, rarely have these hang-ups. From electropop to goth and anything in between, the archetypical music fan has a plethora of music that lends itself to play the game what-doesn’t-belong-in-this-group? It is obvious from one listen that Stephen Vs Stephen (the moniker of Stephen Sandknop) is a music fan; with this five-track debut, “And Yet EP” (23 August 2011), SVS dismisses any musical purity and distills more 80s than may be healthy for the average person. From dream pop-esque vocal arrangements, post-punk urgency, synthpop infectiousness, shoegaze distortion, electropop bleeping, noise pop fuzziness, etc… and yet in this profusion of musical references, which quite often are not compatible with one another, is a euphoric EP that demonstrates musical vision, songwriting chops, and the potential of this nascent musician.

I learnt of Stephen Vs Stephen during my summer long vacation into much needed inconsistency; it was Microfilm that made me aware of the “And Yet EP.” Normally I find myself put off when anyone tells me about new artists or what I should listen to, but as I consider this house duo to be genius, I had to take a listen. I was blown away immediately by the first track. I did a futile search for information on Stephen vs. Stephen – futile because there is little to no information available about this truly a nascent artist. But any lovers of music, especially those of 80s music (from post-punk to synthpop), should listen to this EP.

The “And Yet EP” opens with “The Void.” As a point of comparison (and the highest compliment I can pay any artist by comparison), the song sort of reminded me of The Cure’s “Out of Mind” (the b-side of “Fascination Street” or “Lullaby,” depending where in the world you are). Though not as “post-punky gothic,” the sound and visceral effect of the guitar are similar. However, this is not that gothy ditty in the least; added here are some nifty synthpop elements gone industrial, big ambient keys, and heartfelt, layered vocals. Though you would swear when first listening to the music that the vocals will be of the matter-of-fact tone, what you get are vocals that demonstrate the conviction towards the lyrics and the sincerity of the words. In a nutshell, can you say track of the year?

The second track, “The Difference Between Us,” instantly reminded me of those near dance-ready 80s electropop songs that made you want to shuffle side-to-side. With a steady beat, intersected by nifty drum rolls during the chorus, musically the most mesmerizing moment is the bridge, when the beat fades away and you are drifting in a dream pop meets synthpop interlude of etherealness. The song is remixed by Microfilm (“Microfilm’s High Contrast Mix”) for the final track of the EP. True to form, Microfilm recreates this song completely, conceiving it into a real house song, keeping the vocals intact. The collection then falls into the ballad “A Strange Kind.” Loaded with a chiming ostinato and subtle jingly guitar arrangements, it is the interplay between the ambient keys and dreamy vocal arrangements that really is the focus of the song. Hauntingly sweet, it is one of those songs that can best be described as a sigh.

The last track before the remix is the titular “And Yet…” Near six minutes, all the post-punk and shoegaze tricks come out during this epic: repetition that keeps on building, distorted musical arrangements with big ambient keys, and matter-of-fact (but harmonious) vocals. When the beat finally drops, the acoustic strumming adds depth to the range of sounds. But soon after, the song immediately crashes towards its end four-minutes in; what remains is sheer distorted noise creating a semblance of the song – someone here must have heard his My Bloody Valentine.

Now starts my mission to convince Stephen Vs Stephen to answer a few questions.

Track Listing:
1. The Void
2. The Difference Between Us
3. A Strange Kind
4. And Yet...
5. The Difference Between Us (Microfilm's High Contrast Mix)

Here is a video clip of “And Yet” from the SBSandknop YouTube Channel, followed by an embed of “Void” from the stephen-vs-stephen Soundcloud page.

01 The Void by Stephen Vs Stephen

Head over to Stephen Vs Stephen’s Bandcamp page where you can preview and download the “And Yet EP.” As I receive more information on this artist, I will keep you posted.

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