Best of 2009: Shackleton “Three EPs”

Things I was excited about in 2009 pt.7

After closing up his and Appleblim’s label Skull Disco with “Soundboy’s Gravestone Gets Desecrated By Vandals”, Shackleton was a bit quiet in 2009, a few remixes and reissues, but no substantial new material. And then in autumn, after a preview session on Mary Anne Hobbs’ “Breezeblock”, a bomb dropped on Perlon. And oh my, what a nuclear bomb that was…

The words “genius” and “unique” are lame in their subjectivity. How can I explain the greatness of these tracks then? Well… I’ll try to outline “uniqueness”, leaving the “genius” up you.
Shackleton, who always sounded unlike anyone else, now doesn’t exactly sound even like himself… I mean, the percussive intricacy and ghostly atmospheres are here, but with a few exceptions there are no replications of the sounds heavily featured on Skull Disco releases. Tracks like “(No More) Negative Thoughts” and “Let Go” are not scary; rather you could call them… quirky. Voice samples, organ sounds, basslines dance weird but almost funny dances around you. These are the sounds of ghosts partying and having fun, rather than pushing you too deep into abandoned graveyards and misty marches. The gospel chant “He’s got a whole world is his hands” in “Asha In The Tabernacle” is actually an uplifting tune, but how wicked it sounds in the context, no matter how cheekily Shackleton plays around with it on a sample keyboard, old-skool style…

Unsurprisingly, this is absolutely NOT dubstep even as most tracks clock around 140 bpm (but there are also 120, 135). After all, BPMs don’t mean a thing here, because this music is so free-flowing and unrestricted by mixing/partying concerns that you hardly recognize the tempo unless you really concentrate… So are the riddims: uncategorizable, uncomparable to tried and tested patters (what surprises the most, that mostly they ARE groovy - in a twisted way, but still).

So are the structures – there are no standard 8-bar intros/bass drops; neither the tracks are steady-rolling from start to finish. They evolve, freely an unpredictably – without becoming too progressive/IDM complex at the same time. An intro of “Asha In The Tabernacle” lasts for 3 minutes, after which the bass drops… “Trembling Leaf” is all just percussion sounds, textures and fragmented voices. The kick and bass drop half-way in for around 2 minutes.

I can’t imagine all but very inventive DJs mixing these tracks, although it is actually possible – the tempos are friendly (unlike the structures and the moods though). Which is a pity – no matter how good it sounds on your home stereo, when played on a decent club sound system these tracks can transport you to faraway places… And if played on a summer night at a proper open-air in a proper location (some Arizonian desert… ok, at least @ Tundra) – oh oh, you better hold tight to your mind, boy :)

As a bonus, in the late autumn the man dropped even less-Shackleton sounding remix, on a fantastic 12” Harmonia & Eno ’76 Remixes. The track excels in that it sounds less weird/ghostly/out-there, at the same time still sticking away from standard patterns. On the flip, Appleblim & Komonazmuk astonish with an incredibly yummy 180bpm surprise, which could kick off any Loxy or DJ Dann set with a mood to remember after the party’s over.

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