A New Design for Living
Review by Dave Mandell of Jaded Times
There is something I really like and something I really hate about this record.
Unfortunately, I can't really put either into words. It's kind of odd, like I really want to like it but make fun of it at the same time. The music itself is relatively creative and technically impressive; the vocals border on ordinary, but at moments create awe-inspiring harmonies that are oddly uplifting, and the backing vocals are quite pleasing. Impressive drum work (though poorly e.q.ed and far too bass heavy) backs some really interesting and at times elaborate guitar melodies, creating a pretty decent alternative/rock sound; these are smartly constructed songs that are reminiscent of a cross between Alice in Chains and the Epitaph bands of the 90's. Lyrically, The Stepford Five often border on cheesiness (which isn't helped by the 90's grungified vocals) but then can shift as fluidly as the music, which (on track 5, entitled Ted Hughes) climbs from standard guitar rock riffs to an almost samba beat, met by cello and minimal guitar/bass.
Though it does at times border on that grunge sound and is slightly polished, it is still a pretty good record and well worth checking out.
Review by MC of Impact Press
The fourth release from this four piece from Ohio is a good solid rock record. While I personally tend to get bored with some of this at times it still is entertaining when it comes to being pretty straight forward rock. Some tempo changes wouldn't hurt, and Keith Jenkins slightly airy, slightly raspy voice tends to just lose me at times. The guitar work is extensive and good, it is definitely nice to hear some musicians truly play their instrument well. Overall this is a good CD, but it lacks something indefinable at times.
Review by Tim Anderl of Bettawreckonize
Imagine if a local band that you always thought were “eh, decent,” finally got their shit together and put out a great record that is astoundingly well produced. The Stepford Five is kicking ass all over the place on what is, in my opinion, one of the better rock and roll albums to come out of the Ohio area in a while. I don’t consider it a put down to say that they’re not trying to do anything more than rock here, slightly edging in with the almost math rock sound that helped make Braid noteworthy. There are a few quieter and slower paced tracks, like the lyrically creeping “Ted Hughes,” but even those songs manage to rock just enough to trickle right in and flow with the rest of the record. Unfortunately, I’m sure some pretentious reviewer will turn their nose up at this record for being “overproduced,” but they can eat it. Even my dad likes this record. Go out for a nice long freeway drive, roll your windows down, and crank this one.
Review by Justin Stewart of Splendid Magazine
If there is indeed honor in never giving up and "staying the course", as George Bushes I or II might say, Columbus's Stepford Five deserve a purple heart for their steadfast cling to a very tattered sound. After a couple EPs and what has now been three full-lengths, the band have scarcely altered their punchy emo/alterna-rock sound. They've been called "radio-ready" for more than four years now, but I've yet to hear them on my local commercial rock station. Why? The reason has something to do with their independent integrity, the fact that I don't listen to my local commercial rock station or the fact that there's something curiously catatonic about the Stepford Five's heartfelt post-hardcore sturm und drang.
They're adequate at going through the motions. A trace of the band's energy is there, and their long time together has left them well oiled and tight (and better produced). "No Use", with its chiming arpeggios and olympic drumming, commands attention, but most of A New Design for Living is so stiltedly derivative of already questionable bands like Gameface and even Creed ("Last Possibility") that merely paying attention becomes a taxing effort. Add to that Keith Jenkins's hoarse voice, which completely lacks range, and you're left with a third album that simply doesn't demonstrate any improvement. I'm not saying that it's time for the Stepford Five to give up, but maybe they should rethink that whole "staying the course" thing.
Review by Eric Peppel of Sponic
I’ve missed the roaring guitars of the Afghan Whigs. I’ve also missed their willingness to play it big and to play it loud and to play it with their heart on their sleeve. For all of Greg Dulli’s tongue in cheek (and tongue-in-God-knows-what-else) vocalizing and posturing, he was never less than genuine-whether it was genuinely snarky or genuinely flaying open his personal wounds for the audience.
So what’s with all this Dulli-talk before the Stepford Five review? Well, fellow Ohioans Stepford Five have been taking notes from Mr. Supalove, and while their music lacks the tragic lover-man, come-lay-down-by-me-girl thrust of the Whigs, their music does pick up the Whigs’ penchant for huge, multi-layered guitar work augmented by lovely harmonies.
A New Design for Living is spit-shined and polished, a solid as a brick shithouse work of rock. Cuts “Recognition for the Lonely Ones” and “No Use” prove their chops at bashing out potent pop. And when they strip their tunes to the quick, as on the lovely “Ted Hughes” which boasts a driving cello part, the Stepford Five more than fulfill the promise of their earlier work.
A New Design for Living is far from perfect; the super clean production bleeds some of the character from their arrangements and the record’s energy begins to flag as it goes on. It is, however, an accomplished record, and one that indicates a big talent on the verge of bigger things.
Review by Mike at Copacetic-zine
Ah, good old-fashioned hard-edged indie guitar rock. On their 3rd full-length CD, Columbus, Ohio's The Stepford Five (of whom there are 4, so they've got one up on Ben Folds Five) play it consistently heavy, but with a great amount of variety. There's something here for all kinds of heavy-guitar fans: melodic anthems, mid-tempo riffage, and bursts of Helmet-style metallic math-rock or chiming, discordant guitars a la Sonic Youth. There are also some tuneful embellishments like a cello here and a vocal harmony there. Singer-guitarist Keith Jenkins' voice is appropriately hoarse and weighty, and the rhythm section drives solidly through varying tempos and time signatures. The production overall is clean and immediate, a couple of the songs having been recorded live in the studio.
On a personal level this didn't resonate with me as much as it might have, say, 11 years ago, so I don't think it will make it into regular rotation on Radio Mike, but if this is your sound then this well-done album is definitely a worthy addition to your library.
Review at ReadMag
Great melodic indie with a slight REM vibe. Not a fan of the genre and got bored midway, but indie aficionados will dig it.
Live Review: Midwest Music Summit by Laura Hamlett of Playback StL (September 2003)
August 8-9, 2003 Indianapolis, IN
We went to the Midwest Music Summit for the first time, expecting it to be a letdown after other festivals we’ve attended. Though it was on a significantly smaller scale with a different focus—where SXSW brought in as many hot, up-and-coming bands as possible, MMS prefers instead to focus on unsigned bands, in order to give them a broader audience—we left Indianapolis after the third day very impressed.
Now in its third year, MMS is both showcase and conference, offering industry-themed panel discussions and Q&A to performers and registrants. The real focus, of course, is the music, and MMS had plenty of that: over 250 performers in 22 venues over the course of three nights. Though unsigned and unfamiliar, a number of these bands were visionary, talented, and fresh.
Top on the list has to be Columbus, Ohio’s Miranda Sound. Their upbeat, fast-tempoed music is a striking contrast to the vocal interplay between Billy Peake and Dan Gerkin. Peake’s vocals reach high, evoking Sunny Day Real Estate in all its glory. When he’s not singing, Peake plays guitar with a manic, jerky energy. Instrumentally, the band’s music is far-reachingly melodic, rich, and textured; they play with a magic cohesiveness and creative vision.
Complex arcs of guitar and stutter-stepped, hard-hitting drums define The Stepford 5, yet another export outta Columbus. They also win for quote of the festival, as singer Keith Jenkins proclaimed, “Sooner or later, we’re going to prove to the rest of the stupid country that the Midwest is where all the good rock bands are.” Their music is a hybrid of shoegazer and harder modern rock, with strong vocals and harmonies. As TS5 play, the sounds become waves of chords and beats, all crashing on the beach at once. Nice stuff.
Indianapolis itself has a couple of natives deserving of accolades; the first of these, Loretta, is a young quintet that falls somewhere in the realm of Bends-era Radiohead. Intense, almost possessed, vocalist Damon sings with eyes closed, body jerking, neck veins bulging—yes, they are that into what they’re doing. Strong guitars and stronger dual vocals—from Damon as well as guitarist/keyboardist/singer Jason—combine for a powerful indie-rock sound. Watching Damon onstage, you fear for his safety each time he jumps around the cramped space; he’s every bit as jerky/freaky/possessed as Thom Yorke.
The Pieces are an Indy three-piece—lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Vess Ruhtenberg, bassist/vocalist Heidi Gluck, and drummer Devon Ashley. Think of them as the White Stripes of pop; Ruhtenberg even has that mussed-up Jack White look about him. He and Gluck traded vocals, often cleverly written lines, and he played guitar like a true rock star. For her part, Gluck, a gawky Rosanna Arquette–type, added just the right amount of feminine wiles and outright oddness to make the snappy pop songs even more memorable.
We also caught sets by local boys Just Add Water and Somnia, both of whom put on solid, well-received shows.
We look forward to discovering more of the Midwest’s best in 2004!
The Art of Self-Defense
Review by neogeo the prophet of Tastes Like Chicken, Vol. 4 Issue 4 (Dec 2001)
Okay. Imagine the musical backing of Dinosaur Jr., with Mike Ness trying to harmonize vocals over top of it. Can you hear it in your head? Well, that’s sort of what you get with The Stepford Five. Some other writer, named Frank Esposito, said, “They’re Bush with guts and soul…” Take that for what it’s worth. I wouldn’t exactly call it a good reference, for the band’s sake, but it’s pretty right on. The Stepford Five are a nice change to the Columbus-based music I usually review in that these guys are actually good. There is a distinct sincerity to the effort and energy of the band’s sound, and they don’t come off as being too contrived or over produced. In fact, the band’s biggest plus is that they sound nice and stripped-down to essential guitars and percussion rhythms. Only occasionally is the listener confused by extraneous sounds of keyboards and other miscellaneous instruments. The Stepford Five’s self-encouraged music style, “guitar rock,” fits nicely, and my earlier reference to Dinosaur Jr. repeats itself throughout the entire album. So anyone with a fetish for moody and heavy guitar tracks will find this band a nice addition to their listening collection. By the time you read this article you will have unfortunately missed several chances to see the band live, but you can find out more touring dates by visiting stepfordfive.com or by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review by Melvin B. Strange of Idiot Press (December 2001)
One of the better efforts released by a local band in 2001. "The Art of Self Defense" is worlds beyond the last recording released "Mesh" in 2000 by TS5. This album shows a much more versatile and emotional side to the band. Another fine recording from Workbook Studios. The intro of this record alone lets the listener know they are in for an interesting rock and roll romp filled with changing time signatures and interesting song structures. If you only pick up one local disc in 2001 or 2002, pick up "The Art of Self Defense" by The Stepford Five.
Review by Matt the Greek at Action Attack Helicopter (December 2001)
This band is ok. They kind of remind me of new Bush a whole lot, except their lyrics seem to actually mean something. This band specializes in that heavy, early 90's guitar rock sound, but definitely with more emotion. I could see these guys being one of the better bands on the radio, but still nothing that I could see being in my regular rotation. If you dig like Three Doors Down or Fuel or something, this is that kind of stuff, but with more talent and heart.
Review by Scott at Poploser.com (February 2002)
Top 10 Records of 2001
#10 - The Stepford Five - The Art of Self-Defense
It's nice when you can forget all things emo for a second and enjoy an album that's a throwback to the early 90's alternative rock scene. Better produced than their promising debut, Mesh, The Stepford Five finally seem to be coming together on The Art Of Self Defense. While tight arrangements and crafty guitar hooks abound, the main theme of this Ohio foursome's albums always seems to be one thing: rock 'n' roll. Besides, how can you not love a band whose liner notes thank The Afghan Whigs, Catherine Wheel and The Cult?
Review at 75orless.com
Upon first listen, it's pretty obvious that the Stepford Five worship at the Afghan Whigs altar (the band freely admits this), though with repeated listeners you'll discover that the band replaces the Motown swagger and soul of the Whigs with thick modern-rock sounding guitars and vocals. A better comparison might be made to Puller, the Tooth and Nail band that combined the angst-ridden sound of the Afghan Whigs with the heaviness of post-grunge/alternative metal bands like Paw and Shiner.
Review by Sergio Ruiz of The Village Buzz (February 2000)
For those of you who have been involved with the buzz since the beginning, you might remember me gushing about a band called 10Watt. Coming out of Bowling Green, they reaffirmed my notion that modern music was not only still living and breathing, but it was evolving, and slowly leading me into a path of addiction. You might also remember my cardiac arrest when they had broken up shortly after I had caught only one of their shows (trust me, there is no connection here). Well, this month, I heard from Tim Minneci. It turns out that Tim has put another project together, in collaboration with Keith Jenkins and Jason Dziak. If those names don't ring any bells, they were members of 10Watt. After hearing from Tim, I could not wait to see what the band had come up with. I was not let down. To my surprise, there were even a few 10Watt surprises on the album. On Mesh, the band covers a full range of ground, from the haunting lilt of "Misplaced You" (one of my favorite songs ever written) to the straight forward rock groove of "Broken Skin."
The Stepford Five has been long in the making. Teaming up in the sixth grade, Dziak and Jenkins began getting their act together for a talent show. During their time at Bowling Green State University they met up with Tim Minneci and formed what would ultimately become The Stepford Five. Following graduation, the band members relocated to Columbus to pursue jobs and gigs. Recruiting drummer Mark Kovitya, the band was ready to take it to the streets. A year after forming The Stepford Five, they present Mesh. Years in the making, and worth every minute of the journey.
Review by Ian Stewart of AUTOreverse (Spring 2000)
Rock! Rock! Rock! The CD opens with a big fat beat that sounds kind of like an octopus with two floor toms. The drums sound damn good, like vintage Steve Lillywhite job like XTC BLACK SEA or that one Big Country album I'm thinking of. Much strumming of loud guitars playing open chords and backing vocals that remind me of Bob Mould. Many songs start with one guitar playing a riff or chord alone. Er, suggesting it's a singer/songwriter/guitarist's show here. The songs are fully-formed and rock where they're supposed to but me personally I was never a fan of The Replacements or any of the bands that formed in their wake and there's something very Mats-ish here. It's not you guys, it's me. I'm sorry. I just need some space right now to think about things.
Review by Fibi of Mutuant Renegade (April 2000)
The production is sparse - not lo-fi, but no exactly Backstreet Boys, either. The songs are rock-pop-punky, with distorted guitars, crunch bass lines and steady beats. Occasionally, a tasty guitar solo creeps through, and that's what sets The Stepford Five apart from the slew of post-grunge bands whose should they've copped and tweaked.
Review by Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover Issue #46 (Spring 2000)
Reviews in the MESH press kit compare this Columbus four to Catherine Wheel, Bob Mould, and Dinosaur Jr., (and Afghan Whigs and Jeff Buckley), So into the player she goes! Put it on... Well, maybe not exactly, but there is an intrepid, thick wall of guitar here like Happy Days, The Last Dog and Pony Show or You're Living All Over Me, and like those blue-ribbon artists, there's a willingness to work with the nuances in the big sound, instead of just throwing up an inconsequential wall of alternarock noise. A tambourine adds a shakin' groove...guitars drop off. leaving a humming bass... a surprising, light funk beat drops by... a tempo retard is executed perfectly.. a short acoustic track sounds sad instead of gratuitous...and piano just barely peaks out of Need to Know, then replaces the guitars on "Making Sound." Singer/leader Keith Jenkins and fellow guitarist Jason Dziak have been playing together since a sixth grade talent show, which helps account for the streamlined tightness, the pinpoint guitar parts firing so precisely. The vocal hooks could work harder, and the production, while hearty, sometimes restrains the drummer's slam-bang combustion. But this isn't band, and they are probably exultant live.
Review by Steve Kaklamanos of Spill Magazine (August 2000)
The album starts off with some decent alterno-pop. Of course... while trying to pin down the band's sound, Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, Gin Blossoms, Matthew Good and Matchbox 20 did come to mind... but... the early going is still decent. Specifically, the first two songs are quite good (especially the pretty second one, "Need To Know"). They remind me of stuff by Sugar (the Bob Mould outfit). Unfortunately, the album starts slowly sliding into mediocrity from then on. A funk number entitled "Get Yourself Together" falters seriously. It's not the kind of thing the band should venture into. Then there's "Misplaced You," which illustrates how much the band should also NOT venture into "Mr. sensitive singer/songwriter" territory. Any adolescent teen in his bedroom could do that, and perhaps even better (the singer even SIGHS at the beginning!). Mind you, the song's just a 1 minute 44 second throwaway, anyway. What's really sad is that track 9, "Making Sound," always seems as if it's gonna work itself up into something really powerful, but it just doesn't. They should re-work the tune with the more climatic peaks in mind and play close attention to what seems to be working for them.
Review by Greg Cataline of MUEN (September 2000)
Though it is true, MESH is the debut album of the Stepford Five... the actual story of the band begins with two boyhood friends... two founding members, Jason Dziak and Keith Jenkins. The line-up of what would become the Stepford Five was put together while the two were attending Bowling Green State University in Ohio a few years back. Most of the songs that appear on this first album were written during that time.
After graduation, Jason, Keith and friend and fellow songwriter Tim Minneci, made the move to Columbus, OH. to find jobs and to, of course, be somewhere where a music scene actually exists. So like many bands before them (Howlin' Maggie, Scrawl, Watershed, Afghan Whigs... and more), the Stepford Five began etching out a music career in some form or another, with the final addition of drummer, Mark Kovitya.
Well, the "form" is now taking shape nicely! True, there is a great similarity to Afghan Whigs, obviously one of the bands biggest influences, but the depth of this band seems endless... Lead singer/songwriter Keith Jenkins echoes the stylings of BUSH, but after a very thorough acid bath. What lifts the band to even higher levels is the guitar work of both Keith and Jason Dziak. Aggressive and explosive riffs that are raw and slither powerfully within the crevices of modern guitar power rock. With that, a competent drummer (Kovitya), a roving bassist (Minneci), and little dash of The Stones, you have a magnificent concoction that is almost sure to rouse the spirit of many starving people who are desperately seeking alternative/indie music that has a "real" core and foundation.
The debut album MESH covers all the bases. From straightforward rock chops to smooth ballads accompanied by the piano of Dziak, it delivers flawlessly in all categories. There is an air about the music, in the songwriting, and in the pure assault of great melodies mixed with both aggression and tenderness that is delivered boldly and confidently. And on top of it all... the production of the album itself (produced by Neal Schmitt and The Stepford Five) is superb. This could only be matched by accomplished artists in the field.
Review by Frank Esposito of The Glass Eye (July 2000)
Exploding out of Columbus, Ohio, the Stepford Five go a long way toward making alternative rock sound alive-and-kicking, even after major labels have purged their alt-rock rosters, sending countless goateed love boys back to middle management gigs in the fast-food industry. The band - Tim Minneci on bass, Jason Dziak on guitar and keys, Keith Jenkins on vocals and guitar, and Mark Kovitya on drums - electrify a smashing batch of songs here, ranging from the alt-pop-rock glory of "Contact Illusion" to the percolating grandeur of "Get Yourself Together" and the seething urgency of "Need To Know." They take the best parts of ensembles like Afghan Whigs and Girls Against Boys, mix 'em all up and throw it right back at ya. They're Bush with guts and soul.
Actually, you can pretty much strip the "alternative" from all signifiers here and just let their roaring blend of chords and rhythmic propulsion take you over. It's just rock. They also know how to use gaps and spacing - both overlooked tools - to build tension and room in their songs. The end result is fantastic.
Just as this correspondent did, the Stepford Five spent some time at Bowling Green State University on the windswept plains of Northwest Ohio before relocating to Columbus, which is easily the biggest college town in America, both in size and mentality. Appropriately, they make just the kind of catchy noise you need to wade through the pretensions and shortcomings - as well to celebrate the camaraderie and boisterousness - of Midwestern academia. Well done, boys.
Next up on the bill was an all time favorite of mine, Stepford Five. I have been a fan of theirs since their days at Bowling Green under the name 10Watt. Their show was much more than I bargained for. I had forgotten what had initially made this band turn my head three years ago. Their current album, "Mesh," is one of the better albums on the market these days. Their approach to music is pure. They are making songs much in the way that a photographer makes an image. Not to record the passage of events, but to capture their essence. They do this better than most.
Their recorded material aside (a copy of the 10Watt bootleg is still in my car), this band is phenomenal on stage. Rather than run through a precontrived setlist, they formed the songs on stage. Breathed life into them. Rather than play live, they brought the songs to life. If you hate what is happening on corporate radio these days, if you you want to hear music by people who are not threatened by record company goons, check out: www.stepfordfive.com or listen to Buzz Radio for more details.
Review by Marcella Iovanni of Boston Soundcheck Magazine Issue 45 (December 2000)
THE STEPFORD FIVE? The Stepford Five? Maybe the addition of one more Stepford would give the group more character. It's been...one year since this band came out, and their sound is like that of the Bare Naked Ladies without the personality. I'm kidding, they're not that bad, but upon listening to the album there came from my lungs a mighty...eh. The problem is, once again, there's nothing to love about them and nothing to hate, and as I'm so famous for saying, indifference can kill a career more quickly then hatred. They are four more guys with interesting hair, guitars, and, a message. I've read the reviews from Columbus in hopes they might influence my feeling towards the band. Praying that they would help me find something I couldn't see. I really wanted to like them, but I couldn't get passed the monotony of it. I think they sincerely tried to break the mold and branch out. You could almost hear twinges of rebellion in the guitar-powered "Making Sound" and the Beck wannabe "Get Yourself Together". However following in the footsteps of such bands as the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty, they have no identity of their own. They are different, but in a safe sort of way. They walk toward the fire of oddity, but choose not to walk through it. They are a good band. Keith Jenkins vocals can be interesting at times, but just when you thought there was change in the wind, they become haunted by the spirit of Rob Thomas. Jason, Mark, and Tim are fully functioning machines of music, but they don't have the extra edge they need to make them stand out beyond the proverbial line drawn in the sand. I don't want to be mean, but I feel the need to stop musical malaise and help bands that are good, become better than the standard, and these guys have a chance to do that.
Relative newcomers to Columbus, the Stepford Five began as a band called 10Watt that played at clubs around Bowling Green University, where its members went to school. Three of the band's four members—guitarist/vocalist Keith Jenkins, guitarist/keyboardist Jason Dziak and bassist Tim Minneci—moved to the big city after graduation in search of a larger audience and better day jobs. Adding drummer Mark Kovitya, they became the Stepford Five (go figure).
In the short time since arriving in town the band has already recorded a debut album with Neal Schmitt at Workbook Studios, and garnered a strong fan base at local clubs. That record, "Mesh," is steeped in the loud guitar sound of the past decade. Despite an obvious debt to bands like the Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr. and Smashing Pumpkins, the Stepford Five doesn't come off sounding like a mere imitation. Songs like "No Chance" and "Tear It Down" demonstrate a sincere appreciation of those other outfits, but also the mastery of an arsenal of chops and lyrical hooks unique to the band.