[Negative Products, 2021]
Negative Response, the minimal synth group which began in 1980, is back with its first new material since 1983. And it’s quite an achievement! The nine tracks found on Submersion Therapy instantly recall cold wave/minimal wave from that period, while still feeling forward-thinking and edgy. This is incredible minimal wave synth and post-punk you’d expect to find on a label like Dais Records or Sacred Bones, but is surprisingly (and amazingly) self-released by the artist. Each track glistens and warbles with a vintage iciness, with vocals laden with vocoder and murky effects. Equal parts John Foxx, late stage Joy Division, and ADULT.
Album opener, “Dancing on the Head of a Pin” kicks off with a Cold War-era-sounding synth sequence, quickly accompanied by some modulated strings. Vocals are run through a vocoder, and the effect is otherworldly—the song’s imagery suggesting rebirth of something not quite benevolent: “Emerging from the wreckage that lay scattered on the ground / A flaming cape of orange. A ruthless sense of right and wrong…. He was blessed. / Or just losing his mind.”
It’s a strong start to an album filled with such sentiments. Throughout, there is a sense of the unnatural awakening itself, fighting to control itself in its new environment. “Artificial”‘s narrator is a sentient being with “no emotion to speak of” and a borrowed personality. It is searching for itself in a foreign world, finds itself with “strange feelings taking hold.”
“Truth” continues this model, infusing a chugging bass synth, surrounded by a wall of strings and twinkling bells, with the narrator grasping at the existential “did you find your truth”.
However, for me, it’s the standout “Coral Pink and Candy Coloured Sky” that really melds these ominous sounds in the most exciting way. The song’s beginning throws the listener for a bit of a loop, accenting the counter rhythm with what could be described as ultra-modulated horn blurts before the song kicks into gear with some thunderous drums. It blends the best the album has to offer in terms of the depth of tones of the synths, robotic vocals, and metronomic drum machine—with a narrator, reacting to an alien-feeling, multicolored sunset, and who states “far from home this is a strange land, / Stranger than I’ve ever known.”
These are sentiments that are not uncommon to this genre of music, but they lend themselves perfectly to the mechanical, precise rhythms presented here. Perhaps not a direct connection to the pandemic, and for that I’m fairly thankful, it’s a great example of minimal wave/post punk in the 2020’s as we’ve become separated from the lives we once knew, only to find ourselves rebirthed in a new reality in which we’re searching for answers.
You can find the album for sale on Negative Response’s Bandcamp page, and the lathed, handmade vinyl is an absolute treat and highly recommended as well!