Ben Harrison’s regular job is as a curator at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh where, among other things, he is responsible for booking musicians to perform at the venue. To do a job like that well, one needs to have good taste, and a good sense of what fits. It appears that Mr. Harrison has those traits. But in addition, Harrison is himself a musician. He played in a band years ago, and has continued to write songs while working and raising two children with his wife. And he now has made the commitment to step up a level, and record and release his songs under the name Stutter Steps.
The self-titled album, in my opinion, is one of the better debut releases this year. Our curator/musician has drawn from his bands like Yo Ya Tengo, Velvet Underground, Luna, The Bats, and Bill Callahan to make an album of evocative melodies and satisfying guitar textures. But Harrison isn’t just making a patchwork quilt of worthy influences. He is blending them together to make his own statement via a warm and instantly familiar set of songs. Sometimes sounding recalling New Zealand post-punk, sometimes The Feelies or Galaxie 500, and sometimes a bit of dusty Americana. And then, there are the vocals. Ben has a gravelly but melodic baritone that brings to mind DIY godfather Calvin Johnson. When paired with the female vocals from Cindy Yogmas, the result is magic. You don’t have to have been a fan of Beat Happening to celebrate this pairing, but it will make your appreciation that much greater.
In addition to Yogmas, Harrison fleshed out the songs with Jeff Baron (Essex Green/Ladybug Transistor) on guitar. Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500/Luna/Dean and Britta) also contributed guitar for the recording. The recording band included Sean Finn (drums), David Horn (bass), who with Harrison, Yogmas and Phil Jacoby (guitar), form the band for live shows.