Son Zept – New Island Chrome EP

3 out of 5

Label: Analogical Force

Produced by: Liam McCartan

Without knowing anything about Liam McCartan, aka Son Zept… I’m going to say that they’re young-ish. Discogs lists Liam as being in a band called The Outsiders, from the mid-90s, so maybe I’m wrong on that front, or maybe there are two Liam McCartan’s, so let’s instead define “young” as in-relation to electronica, and we only see Son Zept popping up in 2020 with a couple releases, and then this here 2023 release. Excusing that Discogs isn’t the end-all be-all, and that Liam might’ve been studying with the masters and bedroom composing for 100 years… my ears hear “young,” and there’s droplets of evidence pointing to that.

So what does that mean?

Electronica is a weird genre. You can get away with three-chord rock songs and bravado over in guitar/bass/drums-land and be called throwbacks or revel in being snotty upstarts, and etc., which isn’t meant to knock those who are unknowingly standing on the shoulders of others – I enjoy a lot of those bands – just to say that there’s some leeway there that’s allowed the scene to cycle and reinvent for decades. Over in the bleep-blop world, I think it’s harder to have that same cycle. Obviously it’s persisted, with tons of notable acts rolling out the whole while, and very possibly this is just my ears being untrained to specific tech differences, but I “hear” repetition and influence a lot more readily, and without an extra component like vocals to maybe add another wrinkle, it’s even harder to find your own sound. Being “young” in the scene then, to me, does not limit one’s skills, but how they express them, either not realizing what’s come before, or painting one’s music with those influences in a way that inherently limits it, or just being scattershot in general – no identity emerges.

And then I’ll tell you that Son Zept’s New Island Chrome EP is really good. I hear a lot of modern day Squarepusher here, with big beats trading through jazzy interplay, and then elements of someone like Paul Blackford – a hip-hop beat, though perhaps with a Two Fingers glitchiness. And McCartan even brings their own modern day spin to this, with some video game bop and pop-song contruction guiding moments of tracks. But: I still don’t emerge from this listen with a strong sense of what a Son Zept record is, exactly. Opener Ten Ton is a fascinatingly restrained bit of glitch; Salament Clock has that gaming momentum; closer 7XRain starts to overlay an almost post-rock instrumental vibe. However, it’s like the artist isn’t quite comfortable enough to either push or pursue these: even at four minutes, some tracks seem overlong, having run through a logical verse-chorus-verse structure within 2-3 minutes, and then cycling through it without further invention; the six minute tracks are even more obvious in this regard. And between the highlights mentioned, there’s even less differentiation – a guiding narrative of a “future Ireland” not coming through (all the material sounds rather modern day to me) and a mid-EP bit of ambience (Moontape) a swing and a miss without more immersion to surround it, though solidly conceived on its own terms.

It’s fun, but ephemeral. Son Zept is definitely one to watch, as I’m expecting them to just start running at some point, and it will be cool to have these pieces to reflect on at that point. We’re just not there yet.