Singer Tom Dark played in Knifedance and the Dark before forming Step Sister in Kent some five years ago. With a variety of lineups (drummer Scott Eakin, who also played in Knifedance and the Dark, seems to be the only constant), Step Sister has released numerous singles and EPs. But this album is more comprehensive; consisting of 19 tracks, it's actually two records squeezed onto one disc. The first album, called Sugar Sweet 8-Track
, was recorded live with no overdubs at the band's recording space in Kent. And it sounds like it. Dark's gruff vocals sound as if they were funneled through a meat grinder, and the guitar work of Andrew Lesica and Alex (no last name) is filled with feedback and missed notes. Still, the record has a visceral edge to it that suggests that the band isn't exaggerating when it bills itself as "dark and twisted Cleveland Stoogepunk." Dark is particularly menacing when he sings "And it's a big bad world/And it's all fine" in "Big Bad World," and he comes off as a belligerent John Fogerty in "The Bad Sign."
Recorded at Interzone studios, Second Hand Smoke, the second half of the disc, isn't as loose and freewheeling. Dark's voice still sounds hoarse, but it's a little more palatable, and the rest of the band (this time, Eakin on drums, Steel on bass, and Andrew Marec on guitar) kicks out greasy garage-rock jams with all the sweaty fervor of Nashville Pussy or Mudhoney. There's something cool and sleazy about "Crowned," and at six minutes, the final track, "Anything at All," is the sludgefest that puts an exclamation mark on the whole package.