The Santiago Steps – Points and Corners

The Santiago Steps
Points and Corners

Hailing from Orange County, California, and sporting such instruments as guitars, organs, horns, and tambourines, you might expect another generic ska-rock band. But Points and Corners, The Santiago Steps’ follow-up to 2002’s A-Flutter, not only contains a dash of ska but also borrows heavily from many genres and styles to provide something everyone will enjoy.

It’s obvious that The Santiago Steps’ core quintet of Lance Bletscher, Carolyn Davidson, Chris Davidson, Roy Shahbazian, and Scott Woods are skilled musicians who enjoy music from all corners of the globe. The evidence is in the varied influences that they meld with their confident songwriting, intricate arrangements, and deft performances. But with all of the assorted instruments, voices, and styles, it’s not obvious, however, as to who plays the lead in the band or even on each song for that matter.

But the point is not really which individuals put Points and Corners together but rather how it is constructed or, even more importantly, how it sounds. Think a musical ice cream sundae. Several flavors accented with various toppings, resulting in a pleasantly sweet comestible. The underlying flavors that form the groundwork of the tunes are, in no particular order of import, rock, ska, country, and punk, which are brightened with lighthearted pop melodies and are often topped off with slide guitar, horns, wah-wah, and charming vocal harmonies. But not every bite is as good as the first, and while none of the tunes on Points and Corners will have you looking for the off button, you won’t be touting them as the next big thing to your circle of friends either.

The slick pop and slightly punkish rock influence of Elvis Costello is felt sporadically throughout the disc but mostly on the spectacular opening track “I Was a Detective.” Featuring sophisticated rock beats, clever pop hooks, keenly muted vocals, and a catchy sing-along chorus, it is easily the best track on the disc. Although none of the remaining 12 tracks stand up to the smooth charm of “Detective,” they are all somewhat appealing since they contain strands of familiar rhythms and tones to which The Santiago Steps add their multi-colored musical hues.

“Meant 4 U,” “Everybody,” and “At the Ring Toss” are polished rock tunes that simmer with stylish arrangements and uptempo beats with oscillating male and female vocal leads. The alluring harmonies of the ladies bring Sleater-Kinney to mind, although not quite with the same visceral intensity, while their male counterparts owe a nod to the aforementioned Elvis (not Presley) both in sound and style. The heat is turned up a bit on “The World’s a Go” and “Cold Canyon,” two of the more rawking tunes on the album. The former blends some hip-shakin’ ska horns into the mix, while the latter leans toward three-chord punk only more bright and tuneful. The rock sound is softened to sweet pop with tunes like “The First Kiss isn’t Best” and “Come On” that include a little country twang, some lighthearted wah-wah guitars, and sugary female vocals and would fit on a Sheryl Crow or Grateful Dead album. The sound is further diluted to subdued country as “In the Golden Age,” “Del Arroyo,” and “Breathing Still” are slower, acoustic-based tunes with some slide guitar added as a diversion. The disc closes on a good note with “The Girl on the Beach,” another Costello-influenced tune. But rather than a rocking stomper, The Steps try their hand at a smooth, emotional ballad and succeed.

With Points and Corners, The Santiago Steps prove they can write stylistic pop tunes using numerous instruments, varied influences, and genre-hopping arrangements along with their own musical talents, similar to the likes of Squeeze. And while as a whole the disc is uneven and unoffensive, with occasional peaks (“I Was a Detective”) and valleys (“Breathing Still”), ultimately it is a collection of decent and colorful indie pop that you can play in a roomful of people with different musical tastes and all of them will enjoy some of it.