Album Review: Stephen Steinbrink - Anagrams

Stephen Steinbrink - Anagrams

Putting upbeat instrumentation ever at odds with stories of addiction and mental illness, the Phoenix, Arizona-born songwriter’s latest is a low-key triumph.


“While making ‘Anagrams’ I felt like I was losing it,” claimed Phoenix, Arizona-born songwriter Stephen Steinbrink in a statement about his new album. “Lately, writing songs almost makes the world seem more chaotic”. That might seem a strange claim for those familiar with the easygoing wanderlust of 2014’s ‘Arranged Waves’. But even though it shares at least some of that record’s characteristics, ‘Anagrams’ feels fuller and somewhat less optimistic. 

Several tracks on from an upbeat starting point, a quiet melancholy takes hold of ‘Anagrams’, casting long shadows against what’s thus far been bright and breezy. ‘What Identity?’ for instance, plays feelings of anxiety and self-doubt off against Steinbrink’s trademarked major key meanderings. The woozy despondency of ‘Dissociative Blues’ is a further example of this juxtaposition, while ‘Black Hole / We Don’t Say Anything’ is built around shrill strings and a wistful nostalgia, Steinbrink’s falsetto eventually giving way to a downtrodden sample. Such juxtaposition could also be seen as a reflection of the aforementioned chaos; the upbeat instrumentation ever at odds with stories of addiction and mental illness.

Though far from a morose record, ‘Anagrams’ does feel torn between two prevailing personalities. One of whimsy and wanderlust, of which there’s an almost child-like innocence. And one of anxiety, uncertainty, and the self-doubt that comes with being a twenty-something. 

Where most songwriters would subscribe to one solitary state, Steinbrink instead sits stubbornly on the fence. It’s a position he’s more than happy with. “I don’t care about continuing in a tradition of songwriters, and I rarely intentionally self-­identify as one.” he claims. While he may not consider himself as such, ‘Anagrams’ is the product of a musician fast maturing.

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