Son Raw is rocking a Public Enemy shirt and outrunning the Terminator.
Dubstep’s best producers now lord over the “genre” from above, releasing Earth shattering missives while lesser beatmakers resort to gnarly dance music for candy kids. Burial’s Kindred EP was this year’s emotional peak while Mala’s forthcoming Cuba Electronic promises to redefine swing and bassweight but for sheer terror and dread, Shackleton’s Music for the Quiet Hour takes the cake. Not to dismiss the accompanying Drawbar Organ EPs included in the album’s package as they’re cheeky, creepy and spooky psychedelic contraptions in their own right but they’re almost a distraction when faced with Quiet Hour’s 65 minute suite.
A long form piece of music exploring the Earth’s political and ecological crises, Shackleton fearlessly tackles English dance music’s fascination with science fiction and futurism but does so with a dread and restraint absent from most Vangelis inspired synth music or maximalist rave bombs. Instead, he calls in longtime collaborators Vengeance Tenfold and Zeke Clough for vocals and artwork respectively and fleshes out his sparse percussion with a elliptical narratives and imagery, surpassing his already stellar previous work. The caveat of course is Vengeance Tenfold: while his dead-pan narration slips seamlessly into the groove, his most poetic material occasionally sticks out by virtue/fault of its own earnestness. Which is to say a white guy talking about a dystopian future over scary beats inches dangerously close to self-parody, though I’d still choose this self-serious approach over the irony drenched vocals and overstuffed metaphors that are usually found in this sort of material, particularly when part 4’s dread-infused, haunting letter to the future stands as the album’s highlight.
From his perch in the shadows, Sam Shackleton has quietly become the most interesting voice in electronic music today both as a sonic architect and as an auteur willing and able to use his technical mastery to explore complex themes. From his earliest singles on Skull Disco to his Techno-influenced releases on Perlon and Fabric to his genre re-inventions with Pinch, he’s progressively honed his craft, using dance music’s structure and limitations to contextualize his music without ever being beholden to their cliches. With Music for the Quiet Hour however, he’s become one of the few artists working today for whom a multi-part long-form suite of music isn’t a pompous nod towards “classical” but a logical step in expanding his vision. Highly recommended.