red steppes: Arcs Album Review

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By Anthony Velasquez
Music Journalist

Artist: red steppes
Album: Arcs
Release Date: May 31, 2019

Oakland, California, native, singer-songwriter and visual artist Nika States, also known as red steppes, has been writing and performing songs for the vast amount of her life. She’s currently signed with Native Cat Recordings record label and just released her sophomore album Arcs. Her writing work is influenced by every corner in the geographical location in which she resides. Lyric wise, she writes about her sense of place and variation of place with those close to her heart and her surroundings. Her debut album A Mouth May Grow explores her fondness of lovers, life’s small gestures and travelers and is uniquely delivered through lullaby like melodies.

Arcs was released on May 31 and, according to Band Camp, the album is described as evolving through displacement, disturbances and reorientation. With folk driven tracks, minimal guitar and pop undertones, the album does exactly that. It even includes a Peter Gabriel meditation on loss. 

According to Spotify, “Trouble” is the most played track of the album. It’s introduced by a signature folk melody provided by an acoustic guitar. The melody ascends upwards to a romantic sixth of the key, descends down to the major third and repeats three times before bouncing back and forth to a simple, but genius one-three repetition bass line. The song explores the idea of disturbance and disorientation and is set in stone by the chorus: “And the trouble always comes and the trouble always goes.”

The genius songwriting is not only shown by the message and chorus song, but the repeating melody from the intro, giving the listener the full circle of “Come and go.” The bridge introduces organ harmonies as well as vulnerable and transparent lyrics:

“No one wants to be the face of doubt
Only mountains
Only lions
Only certain.”

Further setting “Trouble’s” message in concrete.

The second most played track on the album “Madera” is introduced by an organ and percussion giving it some gospel undertones and a light pop sensation, all while staying true to her folk sounds. What makes this track special is that the chorus is ever so gently wrapped around a D-major triad, and sends the message of a mutual, conducive relationship from lover to lover. With a content-felt timbre, it reads different every time: 

 “And stay another day for me 
I’ll stay another day for you.
You make a better space for me
I make a better space for you
You make a better world for me
I make a better world for you.
You make a better one of me
I make a better one of you.”

Remembering that the topography in which she resides is important because her music will wisk you to the location, but her Instagram actually provides the lense of inspiration. The photography shows nature in its tender moments, and only then can you see and hear the parallels that red steppes nurtures.

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