By: Andrew Bruss
Steel Train's sophomore release, Trampoline (Drive Thru), starts out strong and keeps things strong till the finish. The album presents a brand new sound that Steel Train has embraced, a sound that negates their eclectic roots but gives anyone listening a concise understanding behind the group's direction.
Their debut, Twilight Tales From the Prairies of the Sun, presented listeners with an across-the-board sound that utilized Latin funk, David Grisman -accompanied bluegrass, emotive rock tales and the Santana-meets-Jerry Garcia influenced guitar licks of frontman Jack Antonoff. Twilight Tales was produced with a democratic approach where all members were treated equally. Trampoline demonstrates a bold new approach. Matt Goldman (guitar) left the group prior to the recording of Trampoline over tensions stemming from Antonoff taking on the majority of songwriting duties without the rest of the band's input. As a result, the lineup of the group has changed dramatically. The group's longtime friend Dan Silbert has taken over guitar duties and John Shiffman has taken over drums from Matthias Gruber. With a new lineup, Steel Train has abandoned the all-for-one minded philosophy of their first record and embraced a more frontman-centric creative approach.
Trampoline offers us the mind of Jack Antonoff. From the first track, "I Feel Weird," it's clear how much more of an Antonoff-oriented sound this album has. The lyrics find him jumping from subjects ranging from his memories of 9/11 to the relationships with the people in his life. "A Magazine" features Antonoff's pseudo-emo vocals over a multilayered composition that incorporates the feel-good songwriting of Rubber Soul-era Beatles and a heavy Wilco sounding breakdown that utilizes a screechy wall of sound that comes back down with a funky Dr. John-ish piano riff.
Steel Train has clearly gone out on a limb to make an album that couldn't be more different than their previous release. Even with the absence of the multi-genre elements on their debut, Trampoline delivers an impressive display of concise songwriting that gets closer to the sound it seems the group has been seeking all along. This album is a clear improvement on their previous studio work, and Trampoline is sure to please current Steel Train fans and provide a quality introduction for newcomers.
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