Today I’m going to tell you all about something that is very near and dear to my heart. So I’m probably going to run a lot longer with this one than I normally would. TL;DR: read the review anyway ya lazy bashterd.
The band is called Steam Powered Giraffe, however they are more than just that. They put it best as they call themselves an act that combines comedy sketches, improvised banter, and original music fused with visuals and effects and robot pantomime. The group is comprised of a group of automatons created all the way back in the 1890s or as Rabbit puts it when it was illegal for women to read and write. They are also accompanied by their human companions/repair crew. The simplest way to describe their particular genre is by album, since they cover a wide variety of genres with each albums following an overall theme.
Who Are They?
First things first, allow me to introduce you to the steam man band. Our trio of mechanical performers is composed of Hatchworth, Rabbit and The Spine.
(Autotune not required. Photo by TrekkieBeth)
Hatchworth is the resident bassist and drummer and has the best (and only) moustache of the group. Don’t let Hatchy near your shoes though since he’ll probably eat them.
The Spine is the one with the best fashion sense and plays guitar, bass, mandolin and keys. Spine also is the most serious of the group which never fails to amuse me.
Finally there’s Rabbit, who is responsible for the accordion, melodica, keytar and kazookaphone. Yes that is a real instrument. It’s like a kazoo but even more annoying. Rabbit is the glitchiest of the robots and also one of the most complex for reasons I will get into a little later.
There are also some human elements to the band, such as Steve Negrete the sound engineer who also does the voices for the show’s AIs, Bebop and QWERTY. He is also an awesome high-tech Dungeon Master for D&D and is generally badass made flesh.
But there are also the Walter Girls who keep the robots in working order and are the cause of many hijinks whenever they’re around. They also handle all the merchandise and have really, really cool outfits.
(Your lab coats will never be this awesome. Geekshot)
There are also some who have left the band due for one reason or another however still remain prominent within the fan collective. The Jon and Upgrade are still fondly remembered as well as The Magnificent Michael Reed who played every instrument ever all at the same time, and Matt Smith (no not that Matt Smith) who was a drummer for the band at one point and played drums in the album Mk III.
But with all the preamble away, I should talk about the music they make. I’ll be linking to the songs from Steam Powered Giraffe‘s YouTube channel as I go so you can listen along as you read which, if you haven’t heard of SPG before, I highly recommend.
Balboa Park Days
Back when they were first getting out into the world, Steam Powered Giraffe were taking their unique act out into the world through busking and pure acoustics. In the early days the group was comprised of Rabbit, The Spine, Upgrade and The Jon and their act lacked the bells and whistles in their stage performances later added with the addition of Steve Negrete, but it still carries a great sense of nostalgia for long-time fans and shows just how far the band has come from their humble beginnings. The only place you’ll be able to find recordings of their busking performances on YouTube, and even then most of them are on the channel Trekkiebeth who is also the group’s photographer who apparently has fanart within the SPG community! Crazy stuff, I know. That’s another thing I love about SPG’s fans. You never can tell what’s going to become a part of the fandom.
Album One is the first studio album released by Steam Powered Giraffe and is heavily vaudevillian. It’s most like what you’d expect to hear at a carnival or old fair. I listened to this album for an unbelievably long time back in high school. So much so that I’m like 90% sure I have the entire lyrics for Ice Cream Parade laser-etched into my skull. This album also contains the first SPG song that I heard, which was of course Brass Goggles.
Brass Goggles is by far and away everything that SPG is in a perfect little nutshell. It’s a bouncy, fun song that is dripping in steampunk aesthetic but also gives the basic story behind SPG as well as hints at some of the band’s darker themes. I love it to death and I’d recommend it as the first song you should listen to for anyone who wants to give this band a shot. Just not the Walter Robotics Expo version as a first listen. Rabbit gets a little too… excitable in that one.
The other songs I love in Album One are Clockwork Vaudeville, a mellow and heartwarming song that for me is the musical equivalent to camomile tea, On Top of The Universe which is probably the best love song ever made for a toaster and Captain Albert Alexander, which is the ballad of the greatest sailor who ever lived. All the songs on this album are stellar and many of the songs here rank highly on my personal favourites list.
The 2¢ Show
Album One was a great start for SPG, but their second studio album The 2₵ Show is absolutely where they hit their stride. Starting off with the spectacular pair of songs that is Steamboat Shenanigans and One Way Ticket, the album includes other great songs such as Make Believe, Me and My Baby, That’ll Be the Way Home and Automatonic Electronic Harmonics being the stronger contenders. However there were a few songs that I felt were a little weak in this album, but I’ll discuss the good first.
2₵ Show is definitely more inspired by classic Americana such Airheart and Steamboat Shenanigans and also includes elements of the cowboy-era music as like Rex Marksley, Automatonic Electronic Harmonics and One Way Ticket. I’m also quite fond of Ju Ju Magic despite its arguable thematic relevance as I can’t deny how infectiously catchy the music is, even if the lyrics make little sense to me.
But here’s where 2₵ Show is a little weaker. I mentioned thematic relevance in which each album released by SPG has a sort of running theme. Me and My Baby and Ju Ju Magic are great songs, but songs about going dancing after working a 9 to 5 job and whatever Ju Ju Magic was about don’t exactly fit in with Rex Marksley’s legendary adventures across the Wild West. I’m also just not fond of Little Birdie and Scary World. They’re by no means bad songs but they just can’t stand up next to the other songs on the album. Finally Circuitry is the one song from SPG that I would consider bad. It does have lyrics but you wouldn’t notice due to the extreme amount of audio manipulation put over the vocals. The electronic music itself just grates against my ears as well. But of course, I’m yet to mention the elephant in the room. An elephant, ironically enough, called Honeybee.
Where to even start with this song? How about that it is by far and away Steam Powered Giraffe’s most popular song on Spotify?
(Jumping heebie jeebies, look at that number son!)
It certainly deserves to be a popular song, since it is definitely a great song. It shouldn’t be their most popular in my opinion, but certainly at least in the top ten. The song is certainly more wistful and slow in tone, although the fact that many people have been using it as a song at their wedding is… unfortunate. But it does make for a relaxing song to listen to with a steady guitar and excellent harmonies. It’s also quite an easy one to sing along to as well as having quite relatable lyrics.
However it’s not my favourite song. Not by far. That honour belongs to The Suspender Man.
This. Song. Is. Brilliant. That’s really only how I can describe it without devolving into a squealing mess. It’s intensely energetic, the lyrics are extremely catchy and the story it tells is both dark and funny at the same time. It also perfectly fits the Americana theme with all its talk of bogs, bayous, banjos and gypsy magic. It’s definitely one of SPG’s best songs to date and I listen to it through every time it comes up on my chosen music player. Suspender Man is just great and the live version from the Walter Robotics Expo live album like the example I have linked to is even better with an amazing baritone opening and banjo solo. It also includes a tuba, which pleases me greatly. This song is a pleasure to listen to and sing along with.
The third album by SPG, Mk III, is kind of a weird one for me. It was released after The Jon and the band parted ways and is our introduction to Hatchworth, our favourite sandwich and badger-dispensing robot with some of the fanciest shoes you’ve seen. But here’s where I might be at odds with the rest of the fanbase. Overall, I feel it’s just not as strong as Album One or 2₵ Show. It just doesn’t have the same number of songs that just grabbed me as the previous two albums. The album isn’t bad of course, although it does have quite a lot of tracks that are just kind of fluff. Tracks like Curtain Raiser are funny the first few times but are irritating to listen to over multiple play-throughs, as is the long period of dead air in Bleak Horizon. But really these complaints are just nit-picking in the grand scheme of things.
Now that we’ve got the negatives out of the way I can talk about the good songs on this album since there are some damn good ones here. Mk III seems to be one of the more technologically advanced so far, with the themes and styles of the songs generally placed around the 1950s with songs like She Said Maybe and Roller Skate King. Heck, Me and My Baby would probably fit on this album just fine. Ghost Grinder is also a great song with a slow tension-building opening before picking up speed to a great song to dance to. Think if Monster Mash took place next door to a swing club. This one is weird as it definitely sounds like it belongs on Mk III, but its lyrics are more in line thematically with 2₵ Show than anything else.
The album also has a few Hatchworth-centric songs since this album is our introduction to his character. We get songs such as Hatch Fever, which on this album is inferior to the Walter Robotics Expo version by several measures, part of Please Explain which is a decent song but not entirely remarkable when compared to other SPG songs. But then there’s an absolute standout in Fancy Shoes, which is definitely a stand-out from the album and gives an interesting insight into Hatchy’s interesting take on reality. Of course, we’re about to get to the best. You’ll want a milkshake and letterman jacket on hand before I get into this next song.
I’ll Rust With You just has a great energy to it, almost more so than Suspender Man. It’s way further up the Americana timeline than Suspender Man as well, more Grease than Huckleberry Finn. This is another song that is great to sing along to on a long car ride with fantastic lyrics and vocals, the piano by Michael Reed just tying everything together beautifully. It’s yet another song with dark subject matter if you’re paying attention to the lyrics too but despite that it’s my favourite song on the album. But there’s another song of note that I feel I have to talk about.
Wired Wrong is much slower than the other songs on the album with a much more reflective tone than the upbeat tempo of I’ll Rust With You just before it. But this song in particular is considered by a lot of fans to be quite an important song, but to explain that I’d have to go off on a tangent, and that means I’m finally going to talk about Rabbit.
So, if you’ve been looking around at all the Steam Powered Giraffe stuff for any decent length of time you’ll possibly be confused by this handsome rogue right here:
Now if you’re a newcomer you might be wondering; who is this guy and why does he look so much like Ra-
As it turns out, Isabella “Bunny” Bennett is transgender and has even transitioned the character of Rabbit. If I can get a little personal here, Bunny was my first exposure to a trans person. Only recently did I get really into the SPG community beyond just listening to Album One over and over again for about four years. Wanting more SPG I decided to buy their latest album and was a little confused at the new feminine voice in the songs. When I found out it was Rabbit it was definitely a surprise, but I wasn’t outraged or overly enthusiastic about it like some people might be. It was just something that happened. People change constantly, sometimes in bigger ways than others. That’s just how life works. I’m 100% supportive of Bunny’s decision to transition as well as her openness about it which has helped inform me and better my understanding about transgender-ism, especially through her vlog series detailing her transition. She’s a positive role model for anyone, not just trans individuals and of course is still the same wacky automaton we all know and love (as well as fear at times). After all, anyone who can learn the accordion is worthy of praise, but re-learning it with boobs is truly a feat to behold.
But what does this have to do with Wired Wrong?
It should seem fairly obvious when reading the lyrics and thinking of what I had just written, but it’s more than just that. Wired Wrong can apply to pretty much any feeling of not belonging or being “too different” to others in our lives. When you get right down to it humans are pack animals and belonging is an instinctual feeling that all of us crave. It’s why we love our friends and family and feel lost when there’s nothing we can relate to in our lives. Hence, “We are all Wired Wrong.” This is a song that I can see helping a lot of people through hard times, and that’s one of the best thing a band can do. So while Wired Wrong isn’t my personal favourite the fact that it’s more than a song definitely impresses me.
Man, this tangent has gone on for a while. Wasn’t I reviewing the band? Oh yeah, that reminds me!
The Vice Quadrant
Now this next studio album is certainly a doozie. The Vice Quadrant is a two hour long space opera and it’s certainly a jump from rocking out at the malt shop. The Vice Quadrant is an ambitious project by Steam Powered Giraffe and the fact that it’s a great album shows just how much their hard work has paid off. SPG is a varied band not afraid to shake things up, not letting themselves become restricted by a single genre or aesthetic. This album is great and shows how excellent SPG are at adapting to other genres. With three separate plots that spans the entire two disc album and great music throughout it’s a treat for the ears.
This might be one of their strongest albums with songs like Starburner, Sky Sharks, Star Valley Night and Daughter of Space. Of course there are some tracks that I could do without. Where Is Everyone is entertaining occasionally but generally I just want to hear the next track and it causes all momentum to grind to a halt before the song GG The Giraffe, which is admittedly a very funny song. Super Space Blaster Centi-Asteroid Invaderpedes 2 has a similar problem but since it’s followed by the majesty that is Whale Song and is much funnier than Where Is Everyone it’s not nearly as bad. Also I can’t get past how entertaining the name is.
Whale Song is one of the most relaxing songs that Steam Powered Giraffe has produced and is definitely the best ending songs that they’ve had. With a slow but upbeat feel conjuring the perfect imagery of Rabbit alone serenading a pod of space whales before the rest of the band comes to join her. It paints a beautiful picture that is the perfect ending to Vice Quadrant. A lot of bad things have happened to be sure, but this song shows that there is still beauty in this universe.
But as for the best song on the album, that title is a little more contested. With so many good songs to choose from it’s hard to make a clear judgement but three stick out to me the most. The first, Commander Cosmo, is a thrilling song about the titular Commander who so far is the only hero SPG have invented that hasn’t yet met his death. Seriously you guys, what is up with that?
Secondly is Soliton which is absolutely great and just has this swelling sense of motion, which is fitting considering the name. It stands on its own as a compassionate and heartfelt love song near the end of Oh No and also gets a genuinely affecting reprise.
But really I can’t ignore this next song which I feel is just too good to pass on and is probably my favourite song of the entire album, and that is Starlight Star-Shine.
I love this song so much. It’s by far the catchiest song in Vice Quadrant and fits in with the other songs about love in the album, as well as blending perfectly with the other imagery present in the album. The Spine takes centre stage with this song and sings his metal heart out about a man unlucky in love. In this way it has similarities to Honeybee except this one is much more upbeat and much more fun to sing along with. It’s one of those songs that as soon as you learn the chorus you try to sing along with. It’s definitely cemented itself a spot in my top ten list of the best SPG songs and lemme tell you, it’s definitely in the higher reaches of that list.
As of this writing, SPG has recently released a fifth album by the name of Quintessential. I haven’t gotten around to buying this album or even listening to that many songs from it. That said, the song I have listened to was extremely good and that is Malfunction, a celebration of all the quirks and imperfections that make us not just human, but individuals. In that way it’s also very similar to Wired Wrong, but I like this song a lot more than Wired Wrong as it has more of what I personally enjoy in a song in it with catchy lyrics, an upbeat tone and a heartfelt message. It promises a great standard for the rest of Quintessential that I can’t wait to check out.
Steam Powered Giraffe is one of the best things I’ve discovered on the internet and has quickly earned a special place in my heart. Their music is excellent, the act is hilarious and the costumes and effects they use are absolutely gorgeous. I haven’t been fortunate enough to attend a live performance, but that’s definitely something I plan to do in the future if I’m able to. If you haven’t already heard of these guys and their incredible act then you have little reason to not look them up. I can promise you that you won’t regret it.