Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: superviolet Infinite Spring


They weren’t the most famous band in America, but the end of the Sidekicks was a traumatic event for many. Even before they became one of the most consistently excellent bands on Epitaph in the 2010s, the Ohio pop-rockers were legends within the DIY-house-show scene that nurtured them (and on websites like, which named Weight Of Air the best album of 2009). Singer-guitarist Steve Ciolek seemed like one of those songwriters who could keep kicking out a new collection of ultra-catchy tunes every couple years for the rest of his life. So the news that he was returning with a new project called superviolet was enough to make a grieving Sidekicks fan exclaim, “If happiness comes in hours/ Well, it looks like it’s that time again for me.”

Ciolek made superviolet’s debut album Infinite Spring with Zac Little, whose ambitious indie-folk band Saintseneca has sometimes counted Ciolek as a member. The idea was to explore new kinds of production beyond the chiming, anthemic indie rock that defined the Sidekicks, exploration that led toward softer dynamics, a range of lush arrangements, and an influx of acoustic guitars. The transition parallels Jake Ewald’s pivot from emo cult favorites Modern Baseball to the more plaintive and folky Slaughter Beach, Dog — that time-honored progression from youthful yearning to young-adult contemplation.

I can already hear some of you groaning, but don’t worry. There are some slow jams, but this is not the kind of fussy “mature” album you sometimes get when punks grow up. Infinite Spring is so named because the launch of a new project presented endless possibilities, and you can feel the enthusiasm for fresh creation throughout. At the same time, the album — which was recorded over the pandemic summers of 2020 and 2021 — exudes the casual, restless vibe of long, hot days and nights that start to blur together as the season rolls on. I can already tell I will be playing it in my own backyard a lot this summer.

Writing punchy songs that convey languor is a difficult balance to strike, but superviolet keep things engaging throughout. Some of the prettiest arrangements are as attention-grabbing as the fast, loud sections, like the majestic flute and clarinet outro that subsumes the last minute of “Dream Dating.” Sidekicks drummer Matt Climer is on board, giving these songs a familiar skip in their step, and Ciolek remains a gifted writer whether you’re talking melodies or turns of phrase. It’s just that now he’s drawing inspiration from folk-rock, baroque pop, and Technicolor ’60s and ’70s gems alongside the punk and indie influences that were bedrock for the Sidekicks.

The varied and rewarding results are immediately apparent. Whereas Ciolek’s soaring high-pitched melodies have often evoked Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, opener “Angels On The Ground” builds to an ornate but fleet-footed finale that reminds me of early Arcade Fire at their best (as long as we’re discussing brand-name indie bands that blew up in 2004). From its jangly, arpeggiated intro to its blanket-soft backing harmonies, “Blue Bower” fits nicely alongside modern power-pop greats like 2nd Grade and superviolet labelmate Mo Troper. Advance single “Big Songbirds Don’t Cry” is built around acoustic fingerpicking that takes me back to White Album highlights like “Blackbird” and “Dear Prudence,” and Ciolek matches the musical splendor with cleverly constructed verses that say a lot with a little:

Night owls don’t get green
They just get even
Jealousy’s a kickstart to an evening
Tell Trevor or whatever that his time is up
And if he walks through that door
I’m sure I’ll clean his clock

The excellence continues from there unabated, often in service of songs that reckon with falling in love, settling down, and what comes next. Ciolek got married last year, and in the album’s promo materials, he says he was often meditating on committed love and “the sort of fearless honesty that comes with that.” On the slow and dreamy “Good Ghost,” those thoughts inevitably lead to the thought of someday losing a partner to death, a subject Ciolek explores with playful tenderness: “If you become a ghost you’ll be a good ghost/ You’d turn the light off if I leave it on/ And when I’m sitting playing piano/ I can hear you hum along.” Perhaps the only subject more intimidating than marriage is parenthood, hence the line “all my nightmares are in highchairs and laughing” on “Locket,” a driving and harmonious track that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Wilco record.

Speaking of songs that could fit in almost seamlessly on Summerteeth, after hearing the Sidekicks perfect an aesthetic over the course of years, it’s fun to witness Ciolek venturing out in a new direction on the stomping piano ballad “Long Drive.” It’s exciting to hear what he can do outside verse-chorus-verse structures on “Infinite Spring,” perhaps the superviolet song that most closely resembles Saintseneca. (“Living the dream or just living in one?” Ciolek sings. “Calling the shots or just calling shotgun?”) And on the closing love song “Wave Back,” his new and old approaches come together nicely: A quiet fingerstyle first half shifts over to a wistful yet hard-rocking conclusion just as the logistics of a beach vacation give way to the swoon-inducing sight of his beloved smiling back at him from the ocean.

These kinds of moments make me excited about where superviolet could go in the future. Still, for all the album’s adventurousness, Ciolek is still at his best when kicking out guitar-pop gems that explode with melody. It’s what made lead single “Overrater” such a joy, the way it kept building tension as it anxiously rumbled along, not fully breaking open into shout-along euphoria until the last 30 seconds. The song’s big finish shows off the kind of hook-laden dynamism Ciolek built his reputation on, but holding back the payoff until the end reflects the patience that comes with age. If matrimony brings something this brilliant out of him, imagine the bangers we’ll get if he ever faces down those fears and becomes a dad.

Infinite Spring is out 4/21 on Lame-O.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Everything But The Girl’s grand return Fuse
• Portrayal Of Guilt’s Devil Music
• YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s Don’t Try This At Home
• Bell Witch’s newly announced 83-minute song Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate
• Lael Neale’s Star Eaters Delight
• Esther Rose’s Safe To Run
• Kae Tempest’s Nice Idea
• The GY!BE x BSS offshoot ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT’s debut Darling The Dawn
• The All Dogs x Radiator Hospital offshoot Paper Bee’s debut Thaw, Freeze, Thaw
• Gabe ‘Nandez’s Pangea
• BTS member Suga’s latest as Agust D, D-DAY
• Windhand singer Dorthia Cottrell’s Death Folk Country
• Naomi Yang’s original soundtrack for her Boston boxing gym documentary Never Be A Punching Bag For Nobody
• Annie Hart’s The Weight Of A Wave
• Ian Hunter’s Defiance Part 1
• Rose City Band’s Garden Party
• The Mogwai-related collective Silver Moth’s debut Black Bay
• Tiësto’s Drive
• Rodrigo y Gabriela’s In Between Thoughts…A New World
• JAIN’s The Fool
• The Bluey soundtrack album Dance Mode
• Baba Ali’s Laugh Like A Bomb
• Easy Star All-Stars’ Ziggy Stardub
• St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ Angels In Science Fiction
• Valley Queen’s Chord Of Sympathy
• Alfa Mist’s Variables
• The 69 Eyes’ Death Of Darkness
• Nourished By Time’s Erotic Probiotic 2
• Ivy’s Apartment Life (Demos)
• Zombie Juice’s Love Without Consequences
• Dommengang’s Wished Eye
• Hunter Hayes’ Red Sky
• Brother May’s Pattern With Force
• Bella White’s Among Other Things
• Nathan Connolly’s The Strange Order Of Things
• Arthur King’s Changing Landscapes (Zompopa)
• M.E.B.’s That You Not Dare To Forget
• Triple Fast Action’s rarities comp Triple Fast Action
• Stars’ From Capelton Hill (Deluxe)
• Windhand’s Windhand (Deluxe Edition)
• Dirty Projectors & Björk’s Mount Wittenberg Orca (Expanded Edition)
• The Mars Volta’s acoustic-versions companion Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazo
• Hüsker Dü’s early live recordings collection TONITE LONGHORN
• Beach House’s Become EP
• redveil’s playing w/ fire EP
• audiobooks’ Gulliver EP
• Snapped Ankles’ Blurtations EP
• Shop Talk’s The Offering EP
• Bayway’s The Newport Sessions EP
• Bastille’s MTV Unplugged

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