CD, Ant-Zen, 2010
Somatic Responses were once shock troops of the stormcore/underground gabber scene associated with the Dead by Dawn parties in London and Datacide magazine. Over a very prolific career they’ve sculpted some extremely memorable sonics and released some genuine classics. Combining their characteristically distressed and even archaic-sounding chords with harsh beats, at their peak they’re unbeatable.
Naturally, it’s demanding to stay at the cutting edge and sometimes it’s healthy and necessary to move on, even from such a successful formula. However, this is also risky and “Neon” illustrates these risks. There were always more melodic and even playful elements to their work and in recent years these have come to the fore, alienating a few people in the process. Neon seems to be an uneasy compromise between their “classic” and “new” sounds which neither wholly fails nor succeeds.
There are some very bright and even flowery chords audible early in the album and there’s quite an ‘up’ feeling at first. The first track to really hit home is “Survive (live mix)”, a fairly heavy-duty track only undermined by occasional intrusions of an oddly cheesy bass sequence. The title “Dark Days” boded well and sure enough we get what they do best: nicely spaced drums, heavy zaps and ghostly chords. Calling a track “Repeated Human Error” is tempting fate, but the track delivers. It’s a hyperactive collision of distorted acid, gameboyish bleeps, heavy drums, and cut-up fragments, perfect for the attention deficit generation.
Elsewhere, traces of grime, dubstep and even hip-hop come through (one reason their Slimelight show in 2007 was disappointing). “Drilldown” more or less gets away with this but “Quantum Religion (Fuqedmix)” is less convincing due to macho grimey bass that’s almost ridiculous but not quite. Listening to the album is a tense experience – you’re constantly on alert, never quite trusting a track not to go off the rails, even when it starts promisingly. “Wavetwister (Schizo Mix)” veers between party bass and more interesting darker interludes but some silly squelchy details sometimes spoil it.
“Super conductor” is a sudden switch back to the ‘traditional’ Somatics sound after three newer style tracks but it doesn’t wholly convince. Although not really fast enough for my taste, the deep chords and harsh elements are fairly sound apart from a brief diversion into hip-hop rhythm. In contrast “Sick Puppy” begins almost stupidly fast (especially as several other tracks weren’t fast enough). It’s a squall of harsh beats that grows into a tangled mass of ailing frequencies and twisted sequences, constantly undermining itself and forcing you to imagine a more anthemic but probably less interesting track that might have emerged if it hadn’t been so intensively mangled and processed.
So there are good things here but many of the tracks and the album as a whole could have become radically better or worse with just a few subtle adjustments, and too often “Neon” makes me think either ‘if only they’d gone just a bit further’ or ‘if only they hadn’t gone so far.’
— Alexei Monroe