Shackleton, Freezing Opening Thawing

[Woe To the Septic Heart]

Forging his subsonic aesthetic on a succession of 12″s on Skull Disco, releasing his debut longplayer with Perlon, and launching his own label Woe To The Septic Heart, Sam Shackleton has become a household name in underground electronic music, even as his compositions still grow brilliantly stranger and more labyrinthine by the release. Freezing Opening Thawing, his first offering in almost two years, does not deviate much from his usual style, but it does present a magnificent new mutation: three complex helices characterized by serpentine grooves, stern rhythmic science, and an emphasis on synthesis rather than sampling.

Kicking it off with multiple levels of percussion crossing each other on the titular track, metallic mbira and marimba sets crisscross each other in the left and right channels, mingling with cryptic numbers station samples and ice crisp hi-hats melting on the bass line, not unlike something you’d hear on The Drawbar Organ. But it’s when his unevenly pulsing synths are conjoined with this polyrhythmic clockwork that the true nature of Shackleton’s current metamorphosis shines out. On “White Flower With Silvery Eye,” he plays with a small army of percussive sounds, throwing them around the stereo field like a kid turned loose in a laboratory. Pitchshifting drum hits descend like mercury droplets in an accelerated fall, and together with Shack’s classic electric organ piercing through a texturally rich background, the whole thing suggests two Steve Reich ensembles playing deliberately out of phase.

The sounds on this release have no clearly defined beginnings or ends, but the overall feel still remains metrical, based on a circular pulse. As anyone who’s been following similar work on this sonic territory over the past years will admit, it’s not a stretch to relate Shackleton’s ethno-tinges to Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit’s concept of secret rhythms, Diskant label’s output or even Konono Nº1, for that matter. But the unbearable tension between the highs and the lows he produces on “Silver Keys” — the ancient pummel amid a slow-burning churn of otherworldly electronic textures, with snares coming in sideways like techno whips — assure his position in a league of his own making. Among spastic percussive gestures coming on like a swarm of artificial insects, and time-stretched birdcalls barely resembling organic life, the track gradually leads to an optimistic, angelic boys chorus sweetly singing of something completely new. Sounds like a future to me.

Mike  on February 5, 2014 at 3:58 AM

Reviews like this are why this site is a fantastic resource for fans. I had no knowledge of either Diskant nor the secret rhythms releases prior to this article. I now own them, brilliant tip!

Owen  on February 25, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Great review. Looked up the Diskant label and luckily Clone still had some copies left. Bought this EP and Don’t DJ ‎– ˈrɪð.É™m (Diskant)

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