Old stories and tropes live on for a reason. Some are memorable while others are relatable in maybe too strong of a way, but for one reason or another, it just works. San Francisco post-punk outfit STEAKHOUSE know how to make use of what’s been set in stone, particularly when it comes to what works musically.
Take Tantrum!, the opening track to their upcoming full-length for example: a track that employs a certain age-old country familiarity, with a slight twist. On top of the primordial, sinister air of the instrumentals, with a sticking Cramps-eque guitar, Tantrum! is your classic—albeit drastic—tale of a man scorned by the murderous, “horror double feature” of a woman he loves, though he wouldn’t have her be any other way.
RIYL Calexico, Handsome Family, Orville Peck
Comments Mark Lee: “The Tantrum song was born from just a twangy little one-note guitar line, the one at the front of the song. It’s just a beautifully dumbed-down bit of surf and rockabilly. The whole song grew from that. The lyrics take up that dumbed-down approach to tell the age-old story of the regular guy who ended up with an ill-tempered woman. This wife of his is a real wildcat who screams and yells and has seizures in the bathroom. In fact, she has a talent for doing him some real damage when her claws come out. Sometimes she even thinks about burning the house down. Despite all this, the man is later seen meekly folding the dish towels in the kitchen. He thinks it over and decides, right then and there, that he loves her just the way she is. Blue-collar domestic bliss.”
There’s always been a bit of seediness in American culture and Steakhouse have managed to translate some of that destitution into digestible little snippets on their forthcoming album, titled Amer Rouge.
The title directly calls out all the ways the color red serves as a signifier for what or who you might want to keep your eyes on: think MAGA hats, Marlboro advertising, blood, debt and really anything that attempts large-scale pervasiveness. They shrink the large scale into more digestible bits, as each song is a vignette—a small look into the many ways people just try to maintain some semblance of person, even if in the most terrible of ways. Some of the stories aren’t wholly sad and downtrodden though—Steakhouse know how to find the humor in what’s too messed up not to laugh at (just look at “Federale”, “Travolta” and “No. 1” for example), but they can still reel it in with a sucker punch to the face of reality.
Fans of Black Flag’s “White Minority” may feel a little resemblance in their “National”, as a somewhat militant hymn born out of the aggressively divisive, violent and myopic nature of our political climate. It hits all too close to home because it is close to home.
Bear in mind—Steakhouse are like anthropological musicians, working through the eyes of observation more than any tales from a personal stance. Infusing Amer Rouge with lyrical satire based on everyday experiences helped fill each track with an extra oomph of actuality. It’s just as easy to see the humor in it as it is the tragedy, since both are something we’ve all been more than primed to recognize. Wrapping these realities in a blend of post-punk, krautrock and Americana makes for a palatable aural experience, though a bit more harsh and in your face than their last album.
Every move Steakhouse made with Amer Rouge was intentional, from channeling the steady rhythms of Can and the deep bass tones of Public Image Ltd. to having Joe Goldring (American Music Club and Swans) engineer for them again, as well as John McEntire of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake mixing it.
Steakhouse is Mark Lee on vocals/keyboards, formerly of Toiling Midgets and Reid Black on guitar (ex-Innaway; currently of Into Another), who are the principal songwriting team, along with drummer Brian Michelson and bassist Ville Vilpponen.