REVIEW: Son Step - Natural Majique

Kelly Kirwan

Son Step is a polyrhythmic four-piece, hailing from the self-proclaimed “original Philadelphia.” They’ve gotten a good buzz going for them over the past few years, picking up tags like “unconventional” and “unique” for their experimental, electro-pop approach. The bandmates, unorthodox brainstormers all, are close kin—literally. Tackling synthesizer, vocals and electrics is Jon Coyle, whose twin brother Chris acts as the beat’s rudder on on bass. Longtime friends Joel Gleiser and Matt Scarano round out the melody, with their own contributions on the electric, vocal and percussion home front. Together, they create a sound that’s best reflected in the cover art of their latest EP, Natural Majique—done by Nicholas Bohac—a semi-abstract forest landscape that feels like a more lucid cousin of Picasso. It’s a mesh of warm and tranquil colors, with mountain peaks crafted from something reminiscent of fractured stained glass. True to Son Step’s vibe, it’s both familiar and slightly surreal, intricately crafted and still serene.

Of the album highlights, “Sweet Wife Life” is a top contender. It’s a slyly busy beat, and the percussion rolls steadily beside a wind chime-esque electronic ting. The vocals are soft and blend together like a murmur of rolled consonants, at times hard to distinguish from one another, but never in a way that distracts from the melody. In fact, the pairing of instruments and hushed crooning feels like a quick way to get loose and sun-soaked, thanks to a few tropical notes in the melody. Also, the name alone elicits a quick, knowing smile.

Following we have “Mai Lai Wah,” which opens with a somewhat somber echo, like the ghost of a laugh. Then it breaks into a slow and pondering beat, with the vocals drifting to high, airy pitches, imparting a soothing (if not slightly sad) weightlessness. These more solemn undertones are just that, though, and they don’t overwhelm or engulf the otherwise delicate and beautiful melody. If anything, they’ll pull you into a brief moment of introspection, guided by cradling vocals that whisper, “Even if I come back to the ground / I’ll die, I’ll die.” It’s deep and relatable, and rich with personal meaning for Jon Coyle, who explained to Philadelphia outlet The Key, “It’s about being present, and trying to find something lasting by embracing unpredictability.” It’s a track that could easily take first place on my list of Son Step favorites (and yes, it is named after the late-night Chinese spot, for you Philly natives).

Natural Majique is a touch avant-garde, but also firmly rooted in soul and lo-fi. Son Step live up to their reputation with their peculiar (but captivating) song structures, which give the group an edge over every other aspiring electro-indie outfit. They take dips into the uncanny, creating a dreamworld for us to sleepwalk through, half-awake and half at rest, where the scenery is both recognizable and preternatural. This EP is a jumble of moving parts that have been stitched together in a way that works, and it's well worth the effort to tease apart just how they did it.