bruce - sonder somatic
Bruce - Sonder somatic
OWEN JONES: BRUCE - SONDER SOMATIC (HESSLE AUDIO)
Since marking his first official dispatch four years ago with the skeletal Not Stochastic EP, Bruce has swiftly become a firm favourite for fans of UK techno’s bleeding edge. Alongside fellow boundary pushers such as Batu, Ploy and Simo Cell the producer has left his fingerprints all over the scene, releasing essential cuts for rising institutions such as Timedance and Livity-off-shoot Dnous Ytivil - each of which have been full to the brim with his bold sonic personality.
So it seems fitting that Larry McCarthy would return to Hessle Audio, the site of his entry into this thriving conversation, for the release of his debut album, Sonder Somatic. For over ten years the label has played host to a rolling cast of UK tastemakers, accurately defining and propelling the state of the country’s underground dance music each and every step of the way. And who could forget McCarthy’s very own 2016 entry into this canon: the barnstorming ‘Steals’ - a track which became infamous for it’s head-splitting burst of feedback but nonetheless captivated dance floors across the land.
McCarthy has consistently walked the narrow line between club functionality and playful exploration, and this delicate balancing act is firmly codified on Sonder Somatic. Each of the album’s eleven tracks draw from a neat palette of rusted teals and slate greys, not unfamiliar to those who recall the latter-day transitional dubstep mutations of Pangaea and Pearson Sound.
But despite the ostensibly minimal arrangements, and the teasing, prickly tension of negative space used throughout, Bruce creates an almost subliminal sense of density, accomplishing a palpable sense of atmosphere within his concise sonic constructions. On the elastic early highlight, ‘Ore’, the producer’s sound design skills shine through, as each element of McCarthy’s industrial smelting process spits out at the listener like hot liquid. Each component seems to fuse so symbiotically that it’s easy to forget their synthetic nature as a hot fog settles over the track.
While almost all of these compositions wouldn’t sound out of place in a set from smart-selectors such as Ben UFO, McCarthy seizes on the space and opportunity of the album format to indulge some of his more outlandish urges. There are rhythmic experiments sprinkled throughout the playlist - from the deconstructed breakbeats and luminescent melodies of ‘Patience St Pim’ to the Minor Science-esque percussive spasms of interlude ‘Torn’, in which McCarthy stubbornly resists the impulse to cosily settle in one tempo or groove.
If the ride becomes a little too comfortable the producer seems intent on waking his listener up with a sharp left turn at every opportunity. The album is full of hidden trapdoors and smart idiosyncrasies which rarely fail to catch you off guard. The sudden pressure-valve releases of the dystopian ‘Babychimo’ and ‘Meek’, or those violently implosive moments when a track seems to short-circuit itself (à la ‘Steals’) have become part of Bruce’s musical lexicon - a reliable set of tools primed to re-engineer what’s expected of a producer previously confined to the 12”.
And it’s when McCarthy sheds the restrictions and embraces his intuitive sense of humour that Sonder Somatic enjoys its finest moments. This is exemplified on the brutal, hilarious and nauseating centrepiece, ‘What’, a track best approximated as a carousel spun off its axis and thrust into orbit, every bit as ridiculous and sublime as that image suggests. Across its four minutes of sugary, neon-lit melody, hall-of-mirrors vocal stretches and rhythmic velocity the track builds to a pulverising intensity that is near impossible to maintain. You can hear the childlike joy in its bracing lack of self-consciousness, as if daring you to match the sheer absurdity with flailing limbs and embarrassingly ill-advised dance moves.
For producers so accustomed to the tried and tested framework provided by EPs and singles the debut album can be an intimidating beast to tackle, but on Sonder Somatic Bruce has successfully clung to his unique perspective, resulting in a project that sacrifices so little of what has made his discography essential thus far.