Everything around us is chaos & panic & impending disaster, but Ben Harrison is keeping it cool. The debut self-titled album from his band Stutter Steps doesn’t spit in the face of death—it gives death a warm hug and invites it inside for a game of Scrabble. Ten songs of sadness and bliss, Stutter Steps is a glorious, vital addition to the indiepop canon. When “Set Radio Clock” surges into its chorus—fleeting & brisk and all too brief, just like life—everything in the room starts to dance. During the endless last chorus of “The Fade”, it begins to weep.
Most Americans imagine Pittsburgh as some kind of rusted out steel factory, but it’s actually one of the more beautiful cities in the country, a stunning blend of rivers and hills dropped in the middle of the Allegheny mountains. If Stutter Steps sounds like it emerged fully formed from its natural surroundings, that’s because it did. Recorded over a few days at a lodge in the Laurel Highlands, a retreat space about 1 ½ hours east of the city, you can hear the mist and the mystical all over the record.
Harrison works at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he spends his days curating and dreaming. Given access to the complete collection of Warhol’s famous Screen Tests, approximately 500 silent film portraits he made of people who came to his studio, Harrison began inviting his favorite musicians to provide a soundtrack. Two of them, Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna—and who contributes slide guitar to ‘Fog’) and Britta Phillips (Luna), became so enmeshed in the project that they created 13 Most Beautiful, a multi-media project which they, along with Harrison, have performed all over the world. Drowned In Sound called it ‘one of the most exhilarating audio visual creations conjured up in many a year.’
The experience inspired Harrison to start a band of his own. Enlisting local musicians, including Jeff Baron of Essex Green and Ladybug Transistor, The Stutter Steps were born. You can hear the Velvet Underground’s third album. You can hear the New Zealand jangle of The Bats and The Clean. You can hear the bittersweet wistfulness of Polaris, but most of all you can hear what it’s like to be alive. Every moment of joy on the record sounds haunted by the failures of the past, and every sad song knows things can get better if you just give it some time.
“Set Radio Clock” is featured as the current “single of the week” of the radio show L’Attimo Fuggente.