Stephen Steinbrink Shakes Free of Meaning on “Poured Back in the Stream”

Stephen Steinbrink
Bay Area singer-songwriter and producer Stephen Steinbrink is back with a new single | Tonje Thilesen, courtesy of the artist (cropped)

In August, veteran Bay Area singer-songwriter and producer Stephen Steinbrink returns with his first new album in five years, and our latest preview of Disappearing Coin (Aug. 18, Western Vinyl) has arrived in the form of the zenned-out “Poured Back in the Stream.”

In press materials, Steinbrink says that Disappearing Coin “feels like an integration of all of my past musical selves,” and “Poured Back in the Stream” is imbued with a similar sense of reflection, as if the artist is throwing his arms around the past, present and future alike. A curtain of synth and tape hiss lifts to reveal Steinbrink’s acoustic fingerpicking, as gentle and insistent as a creek’s current. There’s little else to the instrumental than that, allowing Steinbrink’s songwriting — and his and Taylor Vick’s (Boy Scouts) vocal harmonies — to shine.

In the aftermath of a near-death experience (“Survivor’s guilt, I laugh at thee / Showing up to work the next day after the shooting”), a shaken Steinbrink searches for something he can hold onto — some sacred truth to make it all worthwhile, “something out there more than me, more than empty.” As he and Vick join voices, Steinbrink wrings meaning from the meaningless, embracing not only the whole of himself (“What of the layers of my being? / I’m a walking composite of all the sh** I’ve seen”), but also existence and its opposite: “I wanna be alive as long as I can / Wanna slap God’s face at the end of time, wanna kiss your smile / But when I go, I’ll dissipate / Reality, so obsolete, poured back in the stream.”

“I wrote ‘Poured Back in the Stream’ in early 2019 at the end of the rainy Bay Area winter. Most evenings after finishing work at the stained glass studio, I’d take BART to the meditation center to sit and hear Zen Master Bon Soeng talk,” Steinbrink recalled in a statement. “Over several weeks the song came to me while walking home from the center, reflecting the change in my thinking around meaninglessness from a desperate, negative concept into a liberating point of curiosity. This one is the disappearing coin of grief/freedom.”

“Poured Back in the Stream” is the third single from Disappearing Coin, following June’s “Cruiser” (which also features Vick) and May’s “Opalescent Ribbon.”

You can hear new music from Stephen Steinbrink, as well as local, regional, national and international artists on our music discovery station The Independent 89.9 HD4. And you can follow our Fresh Squeeze playlist on Spotify to stream all the best new music, updated every month.

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