*** (out of four)
When talking about the squeaky pop skills of Stepdad, we must begin at “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails.” The song appeared on the band’s delightful “Ordinaire” EP and, re-recorded with even more heft on “Wildlife Pop,” the track hasn’t aged a day after no fewer than 20 listens and probably more in the last year or so.
Not everything on the full-length debut for the Grand Rapids, Mich. group (which formed on Chicago’s south side in 2009 and has toured with Fitz and the Tantrums and Passion Pit) hits the same sweet spot. “Mystery in the Faking” and “To Ribbons” just aren’t as catchy as the band’s best, and the chorus of the otherwise bouncy “Pick & Choose” is such pure sugar it gets stuck in your teeth. Still, the pleasures crop up enough that this electro-pop tingles with the soothing energy of running a 5K and flopping onto a bed of cotton candy.
Singer ultramark (really, that’s what he goes by) and his glorious falsetto blends excellently with the group’s skipping melodies on the highly singable “Must Land Running," while “Treasure Hugs” reflects a real knack for turning keyboard-enhanced, borderline ‘80s-style music into an epic. By the way: Several tracks, including the shimmering “Show Me Your Blood,” maintain the commitment heard on the superior “Ordinaire” (whose great “Jungles” also returns for “Wildlife Pop”) of making the words count along with the hooks. You don’t need anything to think about while you’re dancing, but it doesn’t hurt.
In concert: July 7 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre as part of the Warped Tour
Album review: Stepdad, 'Wildlife Pop'
Stepdad (June 1, 2012)