Beat Scene High Score: Questing Through Somni’s Adventurous Debut

Chris Daly provides a walkthrough for Somni's debut record, "Bloom."
By    August 22, 2018

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Chris Daly will smoke you at Centipede.

Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute is running a special exhibit called “Game Masters” that showcases the work of 30 innovative game designers, running the gambit from old-school original arcade classics to in-home consoles. In one corner on the third floor, just before you get to the exit, there’s a smaller display focusing on indie games like Amanita Design’s Botanicula and Thatgamecompany’s Flower. The overall “point” of most of these games, the display card explains, isn’t necessarily to complete any mission, per se, but to engage the senses in a new way.

Much the same could be said of Bloom, the debut album by LA-by-way-of-Britain’s Somni, out Aug. 17, 2018, on the venerable Friends of Friends label.

Bloom is the culmination of a three-year journey towards self-defined musical perfection, with the pre-requisite stops, starts and rewrites along the way. Whether it works as soundtrack and/or plotline, the video game parallels continue throughout the album (or at least they will throughout this review).

Opener “Intro/Tranquil” languidly acquaints the listener to a hazy, kaledoscopic world of syrupy beats that combines dusty samples, touches of classical, and jazzy nuances. When the sing-song vocals drop, the herolikely some type of ancient robot who aches for the past or a beloved-but-forgotten stuffed animalis given a task of some sort, invariably something that will tug at the heartstrings in a good way.

You’re not going to get much better early adventuring music than “Crickets,” from the intoxicating percussion to the humming synths. “Overgrown” is the track where things take a slightly darker turn, the harp and ghostly chopped vocals tottering between menacing and enveloping, quite possibly a wicked witch in disguise, but, man, oh man, would you look at those apples? “Spaces” starts on a more contemplative note before distorting into an oddly soulful sludgefest, serving as the bridge before the next Boss Battle.

“The Air Outside” is the plaintive piece where you have to solve that particularly confusing puzzle, but the sound of children playing in its recesses gives the track a strangely comforting tone. “Before You” is an early Shlohmo track he never wrotea collage of field recordings and stuttering beats, the track best suited to fighting the hordes of unnecessarily cute jellybeans or comically armored bunny rabbits or whatever curve ball these types of esoteric games love to throw at you. “Girl” serves as the romantic bridge, because whether you’re a technicolor butterfly or a chibi samurai, we all need love.

Incorporating the talents of featured artist Powermitts, “In Waves” obviously is the underwater scene with sinister dolphins, crab kings and, inexplicably, miles and miles of plumbing, another cornerstone of these types of games. “Silver” is your quintessential Boss Battle soundtrack, assuming your Boss Battle consists of harp-wielding cherubs and animatronic animals playing instruments. “The Air Outside (Pt. 2)” serves up the credits at the end more than admirably.

If you have the chance, swing by the Franklin Institute while the exhibit still is running, and see if anything I’ve written proves false. While you’re there, check out Xevious in the first room and see if CGD still has the top two high scores. I kick ass at that game.

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