I was recently contacted by a representative of the High Step Society with regard to their newest EP, Perception. Now I must confess that I’m largely unfamiliar with this act, and aside from Duke Skellington’s remix of ‘Hot Jazz’ that I reviewed last month, I hadn’t really heard much from the band at all. Hence, I approached this release with rather fresh ears, not really knowing what to expect. From what I do know, the band has a particular focus on the live dynamic, which I always rate highly, and just like Duke Skellington, are really pushing hard to bring the electro swing sound to the shores of America.
Perception opens with an instrumental, ‘Side Step’, immediately presenting this acoustic dynamic, which is refreshing, and later on the live elements continue with some great brass. The electronic bass that soon kicks in is quite unexpected, and could have held off a little bit, but I do like the higher synths; and later there’s some decent interaction between the Reinhardt-esque guitar and the drum machine – not always traditional allies. Towards the end there’s a huge build-up that doesn’t quite lead to an outcome as large as expected – there’s some very smooth saxophone, but the beat could certainly be underscored better. It’s actually a very catchy song, but the production is just somewhat lacking. ‘Back to the Roots’ then throws us in with some high energy from the start, and some brilliant roaring brass throughout. Whilst initially seeming a little more restrained than the first track, some of the electronic components that emerge halfway through do continue to impact the production values. ‘Perception’ then follows – the title track – which is a step up from the previous two. The walking bass is very effective, the vocals flow really nicely, and the verses place the electronic bass well in the mix, which is a nice contrast. Later on, the breakdown presents itself as really quite raw, which is bound to have quite a divisive marmite effect on people; but personally, I think there’s some particularly interesting effects here.
Next up is ‘No. 9’, which is great. There’s a catchy, driving hook, and some bouncy vocals which make the song very danceable. When the electronics emerge, it’s not overbearing, and it isn’t too much of a departure from the initial sound compared to some of the other tracks. These elements are gradually built up over the course of the song, and by the end they’re especially welcome. This is the approach I would encourage the band to take throughout their music, and consequently, it’s the best track on the EP and will appeal to fans across the whole electro swing spectrum. The EP then closes with ‘Howlin’’, another instrumental which builds and builds. An assortment of sounds at the beginning give way to a haunting piano, and throughout the piece, there’s a great demonstration of ability for each performer in turn; the piano solo is particularly noteworthy, sounding like something straight out of a 1920s speakeasy. Again, the electronic parts aren’t the strongest element, but they’re an improvement from those of the early tracks, and work well, especially towards the end. Overall, this piece just sounds like musicians doing what they do best: performing for the love of performing.
The strength of the High Step Society undoubtedly lies in the live aspect of their music. They’re clearly talented musicians, and draw on acts before them like the After Hours Quintet to create an enjoyable, live dynamic which is punctuated from time to time with elements of EDM. Whilst the production is certainly not amazing, I always argue that this is the least important element of a musician’s sound, and that a great song will shine through regardless. So I was a little apprehensive at first when listening to this EP, but it definitely improved over its duration. By the end, I was pleased with what I’d heard, and particularly with tracks like ‘No. 9’, would be happy to recommend.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-05-01