On Superviolet’s introductory single, “Overrater,” Steve Ciolek hatches a plan: “Surprise release the sixth album as the greatest rock’n’roll band.” It’s safe to assume that Ciolek was addressing fans of his former group, the Sidekicks, and that they got the joke. By the time the Columbus indie rockers dropped their fifth and final album, the distance between their standing and their actual success was self-evident. They were criminally underrated and your favorite band’s favorite band, deserving yet forever denied their rightful mainstream acclaim. At first glance, Infinite Spring treats the December 2022 confirmation of the Sidekicks’ long-assumed breakup as scene trauma, easing Ciolek back in with a more muted singer-songwriter format and lowered stakes. Maybe the latter is what Ciolek needed all along, allowing Superviolet’s debut to be judged solely for its craft rather than a set of unmet commercial expectations.
On Infinite Spring, Ciolek—accompanied by some of his old bandmates and Zac Little of fellow Columbusites Saintseneca—takes a familiar off-ramp from the outlying zones of pop punk and emo. Just like Slaughter Beach, Dog, solo David Bazan, the Weakerthans, and Jets to Brazil, the post-Sidekicks project downsizes and domesticates while keeping the voice at the center—still clearly the work of That Guy From That Band without sounding all that much like That Band. Acoustic guitars are a lead instrument rather than fringe or a tool for writing demos. Synthesizers have been replaced with real horns and flutes. Songs that once found solace in basements and busted tour vans now do so on front porches and modest midsize sedans. Maybe you just shrug your shoulders and admit to liking Wilco, or maybe “heartland rock” and “dad rock” are no longer genre signifiers, just where you end up while writing lyrics that imagine what it might be like to raise a family in the Midwest.
“Life isn’t a highway/It’s a pattern where if I stare long enough/There’s your love,” Ciolek cracks on the opening “Angels on the Ground,” a song whose keening, AM gold arrangement may not be overtly influenced by Tom Cochran, but at least is open to taking his populist wisdom seriously. But as much as Infinite Spring is in dialogue with the pop-rock canon—Spotify’s “Beer and Wings” sports-bar playlist and possibly, based on the appearance of a shithead named Trevor in “Big Songbirds Don’t Cry,” Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know the Better”—it also establishes continuity with Ciolek’s past work. Consider how the chorus of “Angels on the Ground” inverts that of the Sidekicks’ beloved “1940’s Fighter Jet,” as though he were learning to appreciate what’s right in front of him rather than looking to the sky, pining for what might never come.
That shift in perspective isn’t to be confused with complacency. Infinite Spring is driven by sonic ambitions more in line with its message of gratitude and acceptance. The spiffy production, and the presence of indie hitmakers Phil Ek and John Agnello, only reinforced the Sidekicks’ underdog status on “Jesus Christ Supermalls” or “Medium in the Middle”—they sounded every bit as big as their fans thought they could be, yet also marooned in the 2010s, a band that might’ve earned adulation and plum opening gigs for Band of Horses or the Shins rather than Joyce Manor or Oso Oso.
While Infinite Spring might initially register as modest for avoiding big swings, Ciolek’s confidence comes across in less conventional ways—layering surrealist poetry atop a gentle fingerpicking pattern on “Big Songbirds Don’t Cry,” owning up to his own goofy wordplay on the title track, not just baring his soul but making actual soul music on “Long Drive.” The album’s core takes its title to heart: The melodies of “Dream Dating” and “Good Ghost” emanate warmth rather than trying to create heat, their touch as light and satisfying as a breeze on the first day of unseasonably nice weather. (Coincidentally, it was 74 degrees in Columbus on Infinite Spring’s release day.)
Superviolet might actually be the most emo project Ciolek has ever made, inspired by guileless crushes, romantic fatalism, and the kind of googly-eyed star-watching associated with the circles in which the Sidekicks ran. Yet the songs are all rendered with a patience and perspective that can’t be faked or rushed. Bad dates, flubbed jokes, and stupid gifts might have once been torture devices, but now they’re merely props in the tragicomedy that got Ciolek to the place he was always meant to be.
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