"We are embarked." - Pascal
What follows are some reflections on Shed's new album, The Traveller, which is just about to drop.
The method here is simple: we've been listening to this album for a few weeks now, on high rotation.
Chris and I started emailing about it, then decided that we'd each write our own reflective piece on it. It's not really a review.
So Chris wrote his and sent it to me; this morning, I had a coffee and then began writing, with nary a glance at Chris' piece. I wrote quickly, getting it all out, without as much regard for polish as would need be in a publication.
What follows is, thus, both the product of our respective dialogues with Shed, our dialogues about Shed with each other, but also our internal monologue on Shed with ourselves.
Pete's polite request: Please take the time to read us carefully, I don't want to get into stupid conversations with people who haven't bothered to read me. It's the one or two more minutes that makes all the difference.
Chris goes first:
Some thoughts of the new Shed
Things do move quickly in the world of techno… Shed’s first release came out in 2003. Slowly he plied his craft, developing his sound, but it was not until his album blindsided everyone in 2008 that people woke up and really noticed Shed. When we asked Shed for a mix, we had no idea quite how talented he was, and the first we heard about his new album was in his interview with us. Just two years later and it is hard to imagine techno without Shed. He has become a central, essential figure. Compared to his last album, which arrived with little fanfare (until people heard it, that is), ‘The Traveller’ has been eagerly awaited by all. I must admit, I was incredibly excited when I managed to score a promo copy of the LP about a month ago. Since then I’ve listened to it a lot and here are a few thoughts about it. This is not really a review, I’ll leave that for RA, LWE etc., this is just some reflections.
For those who wanted/expected ‘Shedding the Past’ Pt. 2, there will be some disappointment, because this is a different beast. It is much less techno and more open and exploratory. After producing under a range of different guises – Shed, EQD, Wax, Panamax etc – here it feels like Rene hasn’t bothered trying to distinguish between different sounds and just made a bunch of tracks he likes. Where there is real consistency between the first album and this one is in the focus – the sense I get is that Shed doesn't make music for you, he makes it for himself. We are just lucky enough that he decides to share it with us. Like ‘Shedding the Past’, this is Rene exploring sounds, reinterpreting difference experiences and techno traditions into something that is uniquely his own. The album is neither mindblowing, nor revelatory, and it doesn't have to be. It is just Shed doing his thing, and doing it very well. It remains interesting and cohesive throughout, and stands up well on repeat listens.
Probably my biggest complaint about the release has nothing to do with the music itself. For some reason unknown to me, Ostgut decided to include part of the press release for the album on the back of the CD case. It reads:
“Does techno music really need the album format? Let‘s put it differently: can techno work outside the established boundaries of the 12“? A look back into history shows little convincing examples. Dancefloor tracks, made for DJ’s, follow a structure which require a damn perfect dancefloor in your living room in order to adequately absorb that very energy. A good album must offer more than a couple of dancefloor anthems, mixed with some ambient interludes and the obligatory downbeat experiment, has to be more substantial than a paint-box for your euphoric memories of perfect nights long gone.”
I would rephrase the opening question by T.H. (who wrote this):
“Does an album like this really need to justify itself with a shitty promo write up?”
I’ll give you an answer for that question too:
The beauty of Shed’s music is that it speaks for itself. There is no point inflating it with bullshit promo spin, or trying to push long answers out of him in interviews. Just listen to his music, and look at what he does: I think most, if not all, of what Shed is trying to express can be found there. And as far as I’m concerned, the most important role Shed plays in techno comes not from his releases, even though they are of the highest caliber. It is the example he sets:
Don't try to ride trends, don't try to be something you are not, don't worry about pleasing everyone, don't follow. Be true yourself and your own sounds, forge your own path.
PC's wandering thoughts on The Traveller:
Shed’s music makes that of so many others sound incomplete, malnourished, and colourless by comparison. He is one of the few who combine a deep, abiding, committed wisdom about the grooves of house, techno and 90s-based breakbeats with the technique and musicality to weave all those well known, well worn tropes into interesting new material.
But they are old tropes now, well mined, maybe mined out. It takes a brave soul to say, in 2010, that the best way to the promised land of interesting house/techno is via house/techno. For me, the interesting explorations seem to be about getting back to the groove by going out of the groove, by abandoning it, by focusing on other things, by going freestyle, by going punk, by going musical, by psyching out… indeed, by getting the fuck away from house/techno, just for a while. Or by just capitulating to formula, enjoying genre, and lowering any expectation of innovation, or even renovation. Maybe. My general advice is a cliché, but true: a change is as good as a holiday. Time for a break, or some exploration.
Over the past few years, through Equalized, Wax, Panamax, etc, Shed has made several extraordinary EPs that, apart from being amazing floor bombs, also exhibit a flitting, fretting restlessness that’s worries its way away from conventional sites and sounds. The grooves don’t just judder and shuffle, they squall and roil over the 4, and by so inverting and mutating (still, always in reference to the archive of the old, the known, the classic) they open up, or want to open up, new emotional tonalities, new rhythmic landscapes. That his music can do all that and still work as 'tracks' is testimony to his brilliance.
Such restless movements are in abundance on The Traveller. The difference on this album is that, though the former journeyman is now one of the masters, the journeys are less and less epic, the monsters smaller and less scarily amazing, the treasure less buried (or less abundant), and the traveller himself, it would seem, appears less deeply committed to the whole thing. The adventures are not as adventurous, the travels are not as wide ranging, and the discoveries aren’t as rewarding. Where are the wild things? At worst, we appear to be where the wild things were, or where the mild things are.
Having situated himself squarely and firmly at the heart of the evolution of the groove, The Traveller feels, at times, overburdened with needing to re-prove old ground, but tired of this kneading ‘needing’. ‘Go re-stomp your own same dancefloor,’ he seems to want to say, but is too obliged to do so. Why obliged? Too polite? Tell us to fuck off, please. At such times the movements are overburdened with the burden or representing of ‘Shed music’, and the earthquake is reduced to rustles and murmurs of the new. At others the real travels are taking place elsewhere – daydreaming, distracted, or perhaps just relaxedly doing their own thing. These are my favourite moments, and there are many of them. I just wish they were longer: imagine that Gemini had gotten half way through ‘Crossing Mars’ and hit the stop button.
And yet, two things: firstly, you would be ill-advised to compare The Traveller to Shedding the Past. More than anything, The Traveller is a restless search for new directions, not the ‘shedding’ (sloughing off and ‘putting in the shed’) of older ones. Though it doesn’t decisively discover them, it is restively searching for future shores, new soundscapes, new ways of building-dwelling-shedding. Secondly, and this returns me to the beginning, this is Shed music, and so while it never delivers the promised land to a famished, fed up audience (if only he and we realised none of us needed to receive what nobody could either deserve OR have!), it is still much, much better than most of what passes muster as good enough.
Shed appears to be unsure if he wants to innovate or renovate: does he wanna re-build house (and techno) from scratch, or just paint his apartment? Third possibility: maybe he just wants to go fishing. Well then, he should allow himself to do so, without the burden of needing to build for all of us what we could (and should) be making together. It’s not up to once musical overman to save the mediocrity of the music from itself. Rene, relax – we love you. Give yourself the freedom to follow your thoughts far, far away from our kneading, needy needs. Or just to go fishing.