So first off, I have been a fan of this group since about 2011/2012 and it is one of my biggest regrets in life that I didn’t get a chance to go along with Tori B Bearly to see them when they came to the UK in August 2016 to perform at The Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln.
Anyway, Steam Powered Giraffe are an American steampunk musical group from San Diego, who formed in 2008. They describe themselves as “a musical act that combines robot pantomime, puppetry, ballet, comedy, projections, and music”. It would be easy to say that part of their appeal is the novelty of their act, and it certainly helps to get people interested, and much like The Lonely Island, Flight of the Conchords and Ninja Sex Party they also have to balance the comedy element of their act with the musical element which is a lot harder than you would think.
But honestly Steam Powered Giraffe not only succeed but flourish, they produce a rich, amazing performance that incorporates elements of folk rock, Vaudeville, comedy and as mentioned before steampunk. On top of all that they have their own narrative and mythology when performing, roles and backstory that build to create something that’s truly interesting. This backstory is expounded upon further in a comic book series which you can check out here.
Currently the lineup for the group is The Spine (played by David Michael Bennett) who is also one of the founding members of Steam Powered Giraffe, he is described as a futuristic dieselpunk robot, with silver-coloured design, he is responsible for lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass, mandolin and keyboards depending upon the song in question. Alongside him, and another founding member is Rabbit (played by Isabella ‘Bunny’ Bennett) who is a copper, clockwork robot with a porcelain faceplate. She has a habit of malfunctioning at shows. She is responsible for lead and backing vocals, accordion, Keytar, melodica and tambourine. Rounding off the current lineup is Zero (played by Bryan Barbarin) who is a swing-styled robot with a gold and gray coloured design. Within the narrative of the Steam Powered Giraffe he was hastily put together from scraps and was left forgotten in the Walter Family Workshop for nearly 100 years. He is responsible for lead and backing vocals and bass. Other past members include The Jon (played by Jonathan ‘Jon’ Sprague) who was a gold art deco style robot, and one of the original four members, he was responsible for the lead and backing vocals, guitar, mandolin, bass and drums. Upgrade (played by Erin Burke) who was a silver and pink stylised robot and also one of the original members, he was responsible for vocals and tambourine and Hatchworth (played by Sam Luke) who was a copper art deco inspired robot and he was responsible for lead and backing vocals, bass and guitar (as well as previously playing drums for the band as a ‘human’ before taking over from The Jon as one of the robots). Anyway, today I’ll be reviewing some of my favourite tracks from their extensive discography, but please go ahead and check out all their music.
‘Electricity Is In My Soul’ is from their debut 2009 album, entitled Album One. This song gives me shivers. It’s so good. I Just get a raw, visceral reaction every time I hear it. It opens with a synthy, robotic voice for the leading vocals. It’s filled with a warm, warbling distortion and yet you feel the emotion of the character flow through regardless. I love the melody that breaks through after this, upbeat and heavy on the piano chords. The vocals after this are rich and more ‘human’, the harmonies in particular are a highlight. While the track is very cohesive, I like that there is a clear difference throughout, it’s not all one tone or style, but the blending of the various elements and the various voices creates something that is just amazing.
‘Captain Albert Alexander’ is also from the 2009 album, Album One. This is the first song I ever heard from the group, and while the studio version I will be reviewing is great, I don’t think I’ll ever quite enjoy it as much as the banter and lead up to the track from their live performance, which you can check out here. Okay, first off I love narrative in music, not just the standard, this song means something narrative, or it is expressing a thought or feeling or event, but a richly told narrative told via music and this song has it in spades. The Spine’s voice is amazing, deep and rich, and warm. He really paints a vivid picture with his song, you can really see everything. I adore this song, and I’ve found myself putting it on when I need a little pick me up because even though it ends on something of a bittersweet note its lively, filled with energy, and whimsy and heart that is indicative of Steam Powered Giraffe as a whole. I especially like that it manages to keep a fairly consistent rhythm and melody, and yet it never becomes boring, you just sort of get lost in the music.
‘Me & My Baby (Saturday Night)’ is from the 2012 album The 2¢ Show. Opens with The Spine’s powerhouse vocals, this song has a lot more swing, with a great hook in and a melody that is just evocative and funny and punchy. I love the backing vocals of this one as well, they bring a nice counterpoint, because as I said Spine’s voice is quite deep and so the backing vocals are delivered in a higher pitch. I love the instrumentals of this one, so much is happening, but instead of overwhelming the track, it just layers together to create a wonderful musical performance.
‘Rex Marksley’ is another song from the 2012 album, The 2¢ Show. Just storms forward, thematically and style wise it’s similar to Captain Albert Alexander, which is probably why I liked it so much. It’s a little faster though, blending a fast paced guitar section with the dual vocal talents who complimented each other exceptionally well. Another song you can just get lost in.
‘Honeybee’ is also from the 2012 album, The 2¢ Show. Slows things down just a touch. And it’s just beautiful. It’s sweet and sincere and melodious and makes me really feel things which I guess makes it a good song. I try not to listen to it a lot, I guess working on the same principle as eating your favourite thing on your plate last so you can savour it. I never want to listen to it and not have that literal gut punch on intensity as this soft, sweet song rolls over me for five minutes and 9 seconds.
‘I’ll Rust With You’ is from the 2013 album, MK III. Kicking things back up a notch, this one is just relentless. Faced paced, quick delivery. Just a wonderful cacophony of energy and sweetness that easily earns it a place among my favourites. It has some of my favourite vocal performances of the collection listed here, there are just moments in this track where I am genuinely like ‘Wow!’
‘Wired Wrong’ is also from the 2013 album, MK III. This track opens with a mixture of electronic chords, scattered piano notes and light percussion which all blend and build slowly, flowing into a more percussive heavy backing melody that supports the lead vocals. Seriously I could spend a month talking about The Spine’s voice, it’s just amazing, but if i’m being honest the highlight of this entire track were the harmonies between all of the vocalists, it just added a little something extra that made this track so powerful. I think was got me most about this track was that I really understood it, I’ve felt it and so it just touched me a little deeper.
‘Fire Fire’ is from the 2015 album, The Vice Quadrant: A Space Opera (part 1). Opens with a light percussive rhythm that continues even as the vocals pick up. For the most part this is a quite isolated track, the vocals are given far more prominence than some other tracks. I think this one is easily one of the most catchy of their discography, I’ve found myself singing it to myself a good few times. I touched on the fact that their are sections of this track which focus far more on the vocals than the instrumental backing, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have any, in fact the percussive based instrumentals are very strong and add up to another amazing track.
‘Diamonds (Rihanna Cover)’ is a standalone single, and a cover of the 2012 song of the same name by Rihanna, which was featured on her album, Unapologetic. I 100% love this more than the original. I mean Rihanna is great, a truly amazing musician, but this cover is just so on point that in my entirely subjective point of view it blows the original out of the water. I think what really nails it for me is the deep, bassy vocals which really give the track a whole new spin. That being said, the counterpoint with the higher pitch vocals from the other singer equally adds a whole lot to the track. I am not ashamed to say I had smashed the replay button on this song more than once. Also as much as the studio version is just brilliant, I really enjoy the video on YouTube because it adds some whimsy and fun and Steam Powered Giraffe personality to the whole track, and you can check that out here.
‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is a standalone single, and a cover of the classic English nursery rhyme of the same name. This really brings something new to the old classic, a whole new vibe and energy. Zero’s vocals in it are tremendous, so deep and soulful, that you almost forget he’s singing a nursery rhyme that’s over 200 years old. This is a fun one, and a nice way to round off some of my favourite tracks from Steam Powered Giraffe.
So that’s what I thought of the selected tracks from the awesome discography of Steam Powered Giraffe and if you want to check them out then click the links above, or visit Spotify to hear all that and more. While you’re at it make sure and support the group by subscribing to their YouTube and Patreon, visiting their website and following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/