David Steinhart has an amazing voice. Something about the range of his vocals and the pure, crisply beautiful way he makes every word clear and strong just makes his music stand out all the more. That being said, it’s likely that Steinhart knows his biggest asset is his vocals, and so they are what stands out on this release.
This is Steinhart’s third solo album – and first in eight years – after several years fronting Smart Brown Handbag and before that the 80′s pop band Pop Art. While Clean is not vastly different from either of those projects, you do get more of a sense that the vocals are the focus. And so you have light, airy pop songs, centered around these stellar vocals and combining crisp instrumentation with an airy, playful feel.
There’s a bit more of the Pop Art feel to Steinhart’s solo songs than the slightly more rock-oriented Smart Brown Handbag. A good example is the atmospheric “It’s a Sign,” which provides some soft keyboard to back up the vocals and lightly melodic guitar. “Waiting for That Ride” is bouncy and more upbeat pop, reminding me of Smart Brown Handbag’s “Just Like Driving Backwards,” while “Good Sense” is a lighter, more flirting melodic pop tune. Perhaps “Like You” could be the album’s first single, with a slightly folky and even bluesy tinted pop quality that Belle & Sebastian fans would appreciate.
Not everything is so calm and purely poppy, however, as my favorite song, “The Smaller Person,” incorporates a slightly jazzy structure, with a more free-form style and a nice mixture of more synths and drum focus. And horns and more percussion come in on the quite yet flowing “From Now On.” Quiet strings fill out the almost heartbreaking “Drive,” as Steinhart sings “It’s so sweet now / seductive calm replaced our / young lovers unease / We drive together or / follow each other / We share all of our CD’s.” On “Cold,” percussion takes the lead, giving a more unique and experimental framework to Steinhart’s vocals, while “Grace” is a quiet, somber affair, perhaps the song that most bares Steinhart’s emotions.
David Steinhart’s latest solo effort is perfectly named. These songs are clean, crisp, pure, with a light pop feel and a charming, endearing quality. I chalk it up to Steinhart’s vocals, which have never sounded more fragile yet lovely. He’s shown he can write a masterful pop song, and now he’s taken the songs one step further. While not much sounding like singer/songwriters such as Elliott Smith, he definitely falls into a similar category. This is a lovely album.