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Mouth of the Desert

Phoenix, Ariz., is the sere severity of the suburban Southwest, the immediate instigator of Stephen Steinbrink’s songs. Steinbrink, a prolific young recording artist in the composite vein of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake’s dark side and the eclectic anti-troubadorismo of Beirut, plays and sings with the sparse desert minimalism he knows. And the desert has begun to bloom after a flash flood of recent recordings.

I Drew a Picture, Steinbrink’s early June release, is a beautiful example of home-studio efficiency and quality. Recorded in Steinbrink’s vaulted living room on a digital 8-track with a guitar, drum-machine and an array of vintage keyboards, I Drew a Picture sketches the inner-images of intelligent criticism. With recent influences ranging from paintings by Mark Rothko, essays on “the intense meditations of creative life” by John Cage and the guitar styles of Sierra-Leonese musician S.E. Rogie, Steinbrink’s songs wax poetic at every opportunity.

Steinbrink also searches for inspiration among piles of social refuse, junk mail, strip malls, and the accidental artifacts of the internet. “These new songs are about trying to reconcile the weird alternate reality we have in this world of technology,” he says.  

Tracks like “Salt River Bed,” a desert elegy, and “The End of the World,” a romance to the final frying residents of a dried, dying city, are fragments of a sci-fi concept album imagining institutionally racist, uninhibited urban Phoenix sprawling unsustainably until the water runs dry. “The Punks” recognizes the inevitable road warriors who survive at the end.

On a 20-town tour, playing sets with Glochies (another Phoenix musician who plays both synthesizer and Gamelan gongs alongside), Steinbrink’s style of digital folk-pop stretches past the dried-out pavement and cracks.

Stephen Steinbrink plays with Shay Roselip 8 pm Thursday, June 21, at Wandering Goat; $5 suggested donation.