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Matt McMahon has a deep understanding of the mechanics of the Shimmer.
Even if you’re not familiar with his work, you probably already know just as much as anyone else does about electronic musician Shea McGilvray. Despite him having put out music under a couple of names–and claiming to be behind a handful of other currently unidentified monikers–there’s relatively little online about the Texas artist or his main mononymous alias Shea. But where Shea seems to keep quiet, his latest album does all the talking for him.
Forest Flame, by all accounts McGilvray’s first solo release, is his most complete project to date. The five-track EP presents a confident musician embarking on his own to sort through the numerous ideas he’s cooked up over the past few years of making music. A small label called Online Conversations released the EP (just their second release as a label), and presents itself as a sort of online forum for electronic musicians from around the world to collaborate and convene through label compilations. Between his prior features on similarly structured Shimmering Moods and Echovolt recordings, and his readily accessible ambient compositions as “Space Available” on Soundcloud, it’s clear Shea isn’t at a loss for material.
But Forest Flame represents a definitive step forward in Shea’s craft, with its tactileness and concrete tracklisting as opposed to one-offs, side projects, and evolving soundcloud playlists he’s solely navigated in before. A topographical journey through trancy deep house, Forest Flame evolves from his older, gentler sketches with the added weight of some seriously propulsive basslines. Best showcased on the skittering “Manzanita,” sturdy low ends often keep the record from wandering off course, playing against Shea’s usual clattering percussion.
It’s fair to analogize the EP to works from ambient musicians David August, and Max Richter, as all three navigate in building landscapes and atmospheres. However, with his collaborative background and Forest Flame’s turn towards dance, it recollects DJ Sports and the Danish collective Regelbau–one of the most interesting scenes in house music right now. He also calls to mind Queens producer Brian Pineyro’s releases as DJ Wey and DJ Python, in their penchants for going by multiple names and exploring the intersections of multiple electronic genres.
Where Shea takes his own shape, though, is in his thematic cohesion. Nature plays a huge part in the iconography accompanying all of McGilvray’s work, and his sound really backs up those allusions. As visually evocative as each of the five songs are here, Forest Flame moves from track to track like traversing through the mono-climactic planets of a Mass Effect or an Interstellar. In fact, the digital exclusive standout “Deadhead,” which first came to me by way of infamous Hipster Runoff blogger Carles’s XM Radio show Carles.buzz, sounds like entering the mysterious, vegetal Shimmer of Area X from this year’s cult hit film Annihilation. As the intro’s floating synths part the way, a rubbery yet metallic bass takes shape seeming to mimic a more literal alternative soundtrack for the interpretive climax of the movie, and, because of its sequencing, the album.
Like the aforementioned movie, Forest Flame can teeter a bit into overly heady territory. But just as it starts to get too self-indulgent, it’s form shifts into a different celestial body, Shea offering something new that’s just as eager to be discovered and defined.