I recently asked the motley crew of musicians, writers and ne’er do wells that make up the PoW version of the Mind Squad if they felt their musical tastes had shifted in recent years. The responses were as diverse and insightful as anything else I’d read recently, but for the most part there was an agreement that time was solidifying and in a way, purifying our tastes: we’re more confident about what we like and why we like it than in earlier years. In my case, it’s meant a renewed emphasis on hard beats, the overarching influence of New York Hip-Hop, classic Soul, Dub Reggae and the darker strands of English beat music.
Combine that with a hardcore aesthetic depicting contemporary urban life without lapsing into overt materialism or fantasy and that sums up where I’m at right now. I did differ from the group on one key point though: whereas most people preferred vintage recordings (or recording techniques) to the extreme high fidelity of contemporary records, I’ve fallen in love with the modern sound. To be honest with you, I’m still not sure how that happened considering this time last year I was busy reviewing Lee Perry Productions and bitching about contemporary music with the best of them, but in any case my lapse from the church of analogue audio freed me to enjoy a number of musical genres and records I’d have otherwise ignored and to my pleasant surprise a fair number of those records have fallen squarely within the urban/hardcore aesthetic I prefer. Shed’s “The Traveler” is one such record.
Nominally techno, The Traveler goes out of its way to draw outside listeners into the fold by avoiding purist minimalism in favor of a quick and direct approach halfway between rave populism and rarified sophistication. The mood is cold and alienated evoking visions that aren’t so much futuristic as they are contemporary: the future being more than ever our present. I won’t attempt to review “The Traveler” as a techno album, mostly because others can do a far better job of it but also because of Shed’s stated antipathy towards the “all techno all the time” worldview that’s expected of him.
Nonetheless, the elements are all there if you want to focus on them: cold synths, repetitive loops, steady beats. Though it’s not as pretty as Pantha Du Prince or Four Tet’s releases this year and it’s nowhere near as challenging as Actress’, Shed beats them all on mood. The album does a lot with very little: some synths, some drums, a few good ideas and you’ve got music evoking equal parts darkness and light, a grey mechanized world that’s strangely inviting. If Eno made “Music for Airports”, this album sounds like “Music for Train Stations” or better yet “For Trains”: all forward motion and interlocking mechanical parts. It’s wintery music to be sure but it’s never sullen, refracting the euphoria of rave through the purist “machine music” of contemporary Berlin. (Sidenote: I want Busta Rhymes and Fat Man Scoop to make “Keep Time” into a modern day Tunnel Banger. If you guys are reading this, I dare you.)
By the time the album’s run its course, Shed has gone through everything from ambient space to an intense four on the floor acid tune to the sheer prettiness of “44a” (Hardwax Forever!) and the triumphant high speed Drum & Bass closer “Leave Things,” all in an easily digestible 47 minutes. That he’d choose to end on a high speed junglist note after the equally energetic Hello Bleep sums up the album’s appeal: this has all the brash directness of party music and all the cold reserve of *cough*cough* “intelligent” electronic music in one package. For Shed, looking back clearly means grabbing the best bits from every era, not just the critically approved ones and as a fan of hardcore beats, I’m thankful for that.