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Bruce - Sonder Somatic Music Album Reviews

Blending UK bass, deconstructed techno, and abstract ambient, the Bristol producer crafts stripped-back club tracks distinguished by their crystalline sound design and icy atmospheres.

Much like the output of his labelmate Joe, the bewildering dance music that Larry McCarthy makes under the nearly anonymous name of Bruce can be hard to keep tabs on. Not only across the stereo field: Just Googling his name is something of a fool’s errand. (On Discogs, he's listed as “Bruce (40).”) Over the past five years, McCarthy has released a heady string of singles for revered, cutting-edge UK imprints ranging from Livity Sound, Timedance, and Idle Hands to Hemlock, an early James Blake booster. Outside of his iridescent, beatless entry on this year’s thrilling Patina Echoes comp, Bruce has kept a low profile since dropping three wildly divergent singles back in 2016.

Call what Bruce makes UK bass, deconstructed techno, abstract ambient, or even weightless grime, but his crystalline sound design is as breathtaking as it is emotionally evocative, putting him on a level with Objekt, Pearson Sound, and Batu. His previous productions were as likely to be dropped at peak hour as they were to soundtrack anxious insomniac states. On Sonder Somatic, Bruce straddles both worlds, emphasizing his club chops while still retaining the surreal quality of lucid dreaming.

A track like “Cacao” has the sorts of sinister kicks and bass rumbles that could make it a Berghain staple. But all around those measured thumps, Bruce riddles the negative space with a dizzying array of beeps and mechanistic whirrs, like a UFO cockpit in a crash-landing. “Ore” foregrounds that sense of space, filling it with syrup-slow dub techno, so that each element—be it a snare, photon pulse, or low-end lurch—echoes like a rock kicked into a canyon.

A pulse as big as Thanos’ heartbeat powers “Meek,” which belies its title: It’s one of the album’s heaviest tracks. Bruce pressurizes the build to a claustrophobic extreme, only to plunge it all into an ice bath. “What” is another dancefloor weapon, methodically scaling up in intensity, stretching acid arpeggio and vocal snippet into a precipitous howl. As “What” peaks, it turns as vertiginous as one of Inception’s city blocks, throwing everything suddenly into zero gravity.

Previous singles like “The Trouble With Wilderness” were heartbreaking and pulse-quickening, with glints of sunshine and melancholy emergent. Yet much of Sonder Somatic revels in dark spaces and icy tones, suggestive of a club in the dead of winter. Even the downtempo meltdown of “Patience St Pim” takes its name from the blue-lipped Ice Elemental from “Adventure Time.” The first half of “Baychimo” finds McCarthy in Selected Ambient Works Volume II territory, an atmospheric state he excels at. But soon a submerged throb crests, a bullroarer at the midway point cracking the track wide open. Against such drum programming, the alien washes from the opening now impart a dark, haunted cast. It’s chilling, which is apt for a track named for an Arctic ghost ship. Sonder Somatic downplays his strength in crafting emotionally resonant ambience for tracks that are impressive and foreboding, if somewhat colder. But Bruce’s debut makes him a name worth remembering.

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