Twelve years ago, the album, Songs for Dustmites, was released by Steve Burns. Most people don’t recognize that name without some association attached. To clarify, Burns was the former Blue’s Clues host, known simply as Steve. In 2002, there were many rumors about why Burns left the successful show he had established for himself. In reality, Burns just wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, the primary reason behind his move to New York. Before this year is over, I would like to share with the world an album, and an artist, that needs to be given a listen. The beauty of music is its ability to be found in unexpected places, so if you’re looking for an indie rock mix to listen to on a rainy day, look no further.
The collaboration on this album is just one of the features that makes this project interesting. Burns needed someone to help with drums and arrangements, which led him to team up with Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, who assisted with six tracks on the album (Mighty Little Man, What I do on Saturday, Maintain, Troposphere, A Song for Dustmites, and Henry Krinkle’s Lament). Along with Drozd, Lips’ bassist, Michael Ivins, lent a hand and engineered, while David Fridmann, longtime Lips producer, assisted in the production of Songs for Dustmites.
The album begins with a subtle, classical piano part, and the gentle strumming of a guitar. Within 30 seconds, we are introduced to “Mighty Little Man,” followed by heavy guitar distortions, and strong drumming, provided by Drozd. Heavy, fuzzy, and empowering indie-rock, are the best words to describe this track. It builds against the lyrics, “I am a mighty little man,” and Burns’ vocals are somewhat similar to Rivers Cuomo, from Weezer.
The next song, “What I do on Saturday,” is a relaxing track with simple guitars and drums mixed with alternate background synth effects. The catchy lyrics, “I’m just a boring example / of everybody else,” will definitely get embedded in your head. Picking up on the acoustic guitar previously heard, “Maintain,” continues on the album as the next track. The song eventually leads to a crunchy distortion, following a filling sound from the keyboard. However, Burns’ vocal abilities showcased on this track were one of the more enjoyable elements.
A slower song, “>1,” is comparable to a personal extortion by Burns. It contains the essence similar to floating in space, a theme that echoes on this album, containing a very steady guitar alongside murmured soft vocals. The break of the song is filled with an acoustic guitar solo followed by experimental soft noises in the background. It ends abruptly, which seems more dramatic in relation to the song, something I didn’t enjoy.
We then proceed to “Troposphere,” one of my favorite tracks. It has a similar structure as the previous tracks, by starting smoothly while slowly building up to loud drums, guitars, and vocal peaks. I feel a lot of emotion by Burns, and relate to waiting for a lover and dealing with an internal struggle. Burns’ continuing themes of love and science is felt eminently on this song. When looked further scientifically, Troposphere is the lowest part of Earth’s atmosphere, possibly pinning how Burns felt in time, with coloration to the layers of the atmosphere. Dissecting further, the Greek derivation from ‘tropos’ means change. In the song Burns’ states that “lately I just haven’t been myself,” an obvious indication that his change is noticeable, and referring to a physical realm where he will meet his lover. Essentially, it’s a well-crafted love song, with a deeper meaning hidden in Burns’ love for science.
“Stick around” starts dramatically with a slow synth in the background, and followed by a dispirited voice, which is the recipe of a typical indie song. Yet, the following track, “A Reason,” contains a unique introduction which combines acoustic percussions and guitar strumming. Lyrically, this is another heartfelt track, displaying Burns’ state of mind in regards to his relationship status: “I need a reason / to see you again / I need a reason / let’s not be friends.”
The next track is a short instrumental song called, “Music for Montgomery County, PA,” which is the neighboring area where Burns is from. This track mimics a UFO meshed with a modern beat on the synthesizer till it transitions into the next track, “A Song for Dustmites.” As most songs do, “A Song for Dustmites,” begins with a sincere piano and picks up the tempo towards the end. The track combines heavy drumming, which overpowers Burns’ vocals, resulting in an overall powerful anthem.
“Superstrings,” is another favorite of mine. It is very catchy and implements many styles and elements of the 90s and early 2000s, including a triumphant build that is consistent till the end. The album continues with this rise and fall approach with the next track, “A Sniveling Mess.” This is a mix of noise-pop and loud drums as Burns asks, “Would you love me if I’m a mess?”
I think the album ends excellently with the track, “Henry Krinkle’s Lament.” Once again starting off with soft keys and manipulated vocals, it then transitions into a heavy drumbeat paired with a jazzy flute. An acoustic guitar helps with this transition, and the flute is heard once again, while the song climaxes and fades out towards the end.
Songs for Dustmites peaked my interest, admittedly, because of who was behind the music, but drew me in closer for its honesty. From the animation within the tracks, reminiscent qualities as that of Weezer, to the title and cover artwork, Burns stayed true to himself. Burns achieved a sound he can be proud of, in addition to his longstanding trademark as the wholesome companion who helped solve clues with his dog Blue.