No offense to Andy Steinbrink, whose excellent paintings (bras, containers of mustard, broken glasses) adorn the cover of his brother Stephen's latest record, I Drew a Picture, but it's easy to imagine another record sleeve when listening to the carefully arranged pop and folk songs contained therein. Picture a muted oil painting of wild-haired punks huddling around a fire in the middle of a dry Tempe Town Lake, the burned-out husks of Mill Ave high-rises towering in the distance. It's the sort of image you might find wrapped around a cheap sci-fi paperback from the '70s or an early-'80s B-movie, designed to capture the Road Warrior/Escape from New York market. Though Andy's album cover speaks to the refined power of Stephen's music, there's something in the fantastically savage imagery of the songs that inspires this sci-fi daydream scene. In fact, Stephen's lyrical themes are drawn from much more concrete sources: a dog-eared, well-annotated copy of Andrew Ross' Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City (written about Phoenix), a decade playing music in downtown Phoenix's ever-shifting arts scene, and downloads of The Beatles mono-remasters. The record, released in the summer of 2012, is something of a "Dear John" letter penned to the city, delivered right as Steinbrink headed out on tour and resettled in Olympia, Washington. This week, he visits his hometown, settling into a familiar groove at downtown arts spot the Trunk Space, and Steinbrink is no doubt looking forward to spending time with the friends who have inspired many of the "songs as snapshots" of his previous records. But his journey away from Phoenix signals something as elemental as those friendships: Sometimes you have to go away to figure things out.
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