Stephen’s rise from obscurity began in October of 2015 with the release of his (not quite debut) single “Remembering Myself”. It blew me away. I’d never heard such a seamless, unique, and successful combination of sounds from two genres: alt-rock and indie electronica. Heavily distorted riffs flowed into harsh oscillations and back again, all while Stephen’s voice cried out lyrics laden with self-reflective emotion. In many ways this track was a signal of what was to come from Stephen, through his hit singles released before the album, through his blog posts, and most of all through the period of self-reflection that brought him to send a message out in to the world with the tagline “Sincerely”.
In a letter that accompanied this album release, Stephen gives us insight into the personal conditions that resulted in the creation of this album. He cites a search for meaning in life that nearly drove him mad because he simply couldn’t figure out who he was, why he was here, and what he was supposed to do. In the end, the only thing that freed him from this search was listening to his heart, which told him that he “didn’t need answers,” and that there is more than one “right” way of doing something. This artistic process of pain and self re-discovery isn’t necessarily unique, but the way that it plays out in Stephen’s album is. In the first song “Start A Fire”, baritone-voiced In-Q begins your musical experience by assuring the listener that “You’re not going through it / it’s going through you / And once it’s all gone you’ll become the new you.” This idea of rebirth after a period of struggle is then enshrined in “Remembering Myself”, which also emphasizes how one should return to one’s roots in order to find guidance for the future.
Stephen doesn’t only focus on self-improvement, however. The last couple of songs on the album explicitly encourage political action to improve the way that we all treat each other. “Crossfire” focuses on the pain that humankind causes itself through needless conflict and greed. “Sincerely” expresses a call to revolution in the name of love. “Can you hear that, darling / a revolution’s calling … this is it / this invitation is / for the ones who love Sincerely.” A blog post from February (aptly titled “Sincerely”) abandons this lyrical symbolism to plainly address what Stephen perceives the main problems with society. He decries massive student debt, the pressure on young people to “prematurely pick a career,” the power held by Wall Street, and the empty promises made my politicians. He even goes so far as to say that “we live in the illusion of democracy”.
I’m not here to offer a political critique of Stephen’s views. After all, he admits that he’s “no expert in politics.” Rather, I am here to show how the artist, his personal experience, his political views and musical talent all come together to create a moving, passionate, and above all musically fantastic album. Don’t forget about how damn good this music is. Stephen has crafted a unique alt-electronica style and explores that style throughout the album, venturing in the directions of pop (Mr. Man), blues (Line It Up), and of course alt-rock (the whole album). It’s up to you to press play and let his ideas speak for themselves. Enjoy below, and support Stephen on Soundcloud, Spotify, and social media.