CD, Elektrotribe, 2009
Well established in the UK electronic underground (DJ, producer, promoter, etc.) and having enjoyed formal audio engineering and music technology training in Glasgow, Stephen Arnold, the man behind Error Response, already comes recommended. “Zen” is the first installment in a trilogy of albums to be released in the near future, while the Error Response project reflects Arnold’s pursuit of ‘atmospheric downtempo electronica’. Rest assured, it’s not nearly as bland as this categorization implies. It would in fact be better to term “Zen” subversive chillout or spook breakbeat, for throughout these tracks is strung a clear-cut noir thread that ensures a tightly woven palette of sounds, the warp and weft of which diverge only in their syncopated cadences to create music at once kinetic, colorful and darkly succulent. Song titles like “The Safehouse”, “Payment in Kind” and “Rules of Engagement” only serve to further the hardboiled aesthetic.
With a rather lengthy track list (eighteen, to be precise), “Zen” runs the risk of becoming monotonous, the fate of many mediocre fully electronic albums. However, one listen through this almost flawless opus will disprove this assumption mightily. A majority of tracks span less than four minutes, but their dark electro quality, the manner in which they are puzzled together and the rich bass timbres employed together forge a quality of depth and timelessness not often encountered. The cinematic mood this subliminal album creates, with plentiful references to classic film, television and scoring, is accomplished with beats ranging from trip hop to drum ‘n’ bass, orchestral elements like strings and piano, and atmospheres stretching through relaxed and hypnotic to touch upon a tense, aggressive inner core. It is, in short, the perfect secret agent soundtrack.
“Zen” flows immeasurably well, being neither too swift nor too sedate for too long, but rather pooling and cascading in turn, progressing from serene and laidback (“The Clones”) to taut and wonky (“Serenity”), from cut-up and textured (“The Arrival”) to melodic and hopeful (“Shadows”). Its easy downtempo, trip hop and drum ‘n’ bass grooves are at times kinetic and subdued – more often than not, both at once – while the music’s currents shift between adrift and focused in superb balance. No doubt a pleasant surprise to many, the album’s second track, “Real Props (feat. The Protege)”, makes for a lyrical twist as secret agent dark electronic meets urban stoner hip hop. It’s juxtapositions like these that give listeners a clue that, with Error Response, Arnold is at the top of his game. The funk, the atmospheres and (especially) the glimmering noir, all executed in a style clean and crisp as freshly minted hundred dollar bills, lend mysterious “Zen” exactly that – meditation, koan, satori…
— Dutton Hauhart