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Shackleton - 3 EPs

SHACKLETON - 3 EPs (Perlon)

Albums that come up as “undefinable” are rare, but this is one of them. In terms of cosmic harmony in a musical universe, there’s something quite marvellous about Shackleton appearing on Perlon. Often when artists and labels come together, it’s often easy to enthuse and speculate quite wildly about the potential sound. “Juan Atkins releasing records on Mojuba? Woah that’d be fantastic”. Yet sadly the results are underwhelming virtually all the time. Here it’s different; Shackleton’s refusal to be bracketed with what we now know as dubstep has been part of his aesthetic since those early releases on Mordant and Skull Disco. Perlon as a label always surprise, and this 9 track album is the meeting of these two convergences in the middle.

What comes across in all the compositions is a sense of propulsion and dynamics. The tempos and styles change; there’s tablas in the percussion and all sorts going on at times. But throughout, tension remains and you’re always on the edge of wondering what sort of stylistic mutation will happen with the next track. Those wanting the rush of the dancefloor may very well be disappointed, yet lacing all songs on the album is a sense of exploration and progression. I’m reminded of Rupert Parkes’ stylistic excursions on “Hidden Camera” and “Modus Operandi”, but without the melodic colour. Shackleton occupies a more distant position, but both operate with the same aesthetic, not being tied too closely to one style of genre. 

The album kicks off with the uncertainty of “(no more) negative thoughts”, subtle percussion stuttering in and around a nagging coda. It never really goes anywhere, echoing a looser Monolake,  but from the first few notes, it’s not hard to feel sucked into his musical world. By “Mountains of Ashes”, the strands of those sonic themes are slowly being threaded together into something much more cohesive; the uncertainty and ambiguity remains, but with each track, the atmosphere is retained. This sketch in particular grows to a satisfying climax by way of a carefully placed percussive groove. “There’s a slow train coming” echoes this further, avoiding the need to raise the tempo with more swirling introspection. Intensity pervades the album, not least in the scratchy insectoid feel of “Moon over Joseph’s Burial”, which does its best to avoid any sort of classification, hovering (sic) somewhere in between minimal and dubstep, but not really sounding like either. In a way it defines the album, constantly reaching for new territory and climaxing with a glorious uncertainty.

Comedy even finds it way into proceedings, a refrain of “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands” echoing throughout “Asha in the Tabernacle”, lending the composition a faintly ludicrous, but nonetheless textured feel. If there is a criticism, it’s that Shackleton doesn’t seek to colour the album with a wider range of emotions and sounds, but the sonic world he’s created sucks you in with great ease, meaning that this is but a small complaint.

Simply as a lesson in obscure dancefloor dynamics, this album is something of a revelation. It manages to avoid any stereotype, and retains an enormous amount of kinetic energy in the produtions. Shackleton refrains from relying on hallmark sounds, and instead sketches out a fine sonic essay on subtlety and atmosphere.

Toby Frith

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