I miss Coil.
If that seems like speculative disrespect in this context then it’s not meant to be. Lots of this might even be Coil, since I’ve never been convinced that they’ve gone. The meat may have died but the spirits remain, flying. I hate the phrase channelling because it’s not true; those that think they’re channelling are often merely copying, repeating spectral phrases without spectral phrasing but… there’s a touch of Coil around the eyes. Someone else missed them too, perhaps.
I got this as a solid, bandwidth-worrying lump of MP3s so didn’t come to it in the ‘right’ order; I don’t think it matters* Each piece slides in and slides away again; some tracks are full of space, some crammed with content. There are perhaps too many ideas, but that is faint criticism, especially when so many other releases (and there are so many releases) don’t even bother having one idea. This is grand in scope and turns a little away from the insular darkness and drum clatter of the much-loved (by me, by everyone) Three EPs collection. This is Shackleton unshackled and is a lot more fun, even if the fun itself comes from imagined dystopias and ontological insecurity. Max Ernst’s painting Europe After The Rain would have been a decent bit of cover art (you know what the cover art is by now).
You see, the thing I liked about Coil was that they didn’t dwell on the darkness; they dealt with death and madness and psychoactive delirium as if… well, it might be a bit of fun. Several slices of this thick pie could’ve been on Stolen and Contaminated Songs and if that makes that title a prophecy, then I think the Coil boys would be proud. This is a singular, rough beast, lurching towards us with a manic grin on its face.
And so Shackleton almost goes tropical on a few tracks and one section even reminds me of a similar section in Shpongle’s “My Head Feels Like A Frisbee” (though I doubt you’ll get anyone to admit it). There’s a love of the word in here, even if often they are mangled. The words dominate; samples break the flow of the music in exactly the right way. They wrestle with the beats, with the organs, with the shadows. They are full of a sudden, breath-taking clarity; a voice spoken from above like the voice in Samuel Beckett’s “Company.”
What would God say? Let's listen.
One track is even formed from a letter written to a future grand-daughter; a little mini sci-fi short story that seems written with Houellebecq in mind. This is a very literary album and is never afraid that it’s sounding too precious or portentous or pretentious… it skirts all these boundaries expertly, delivering on almost every count. This is dark and grandiose and occasionally silly and all the more surreal because of it. It’s almost Nurse With Wound surreal, ‘gets’ surreality better than any album I’ve heard in the last five years or so (gets it better than most NWW, to be honest).
This is compelling stuff. I’ve listened all the way through now three or four times. The cycles repeat. It’s on shuffle play on my iPod and every track order makes a certain (non)sense. There’s a world in here and Shackleton is slowly showing it to us, in all its mad glory, exploding frogs and all (I might have invented that last bit). It’s overblown in the best ways, a trailing fuse to what I hope might be an explosion in surrealist maximalism. If nothing else, Shackleton has re-energised the idea that an album release might be an event (a point well made by Dan Baker of Devil Can You Hear Me fame ). He’s reintroduced the idea that an album ought to be something considered, waited for and then discussed rabidly.
You remember those days, you can remember the expectation. The queuing. You'll remember that the possibility of disappointment confusion were integral parts of the experience. The wtf moments that lingered. You'll remember that you often needed to listen 3 or 4 times before even attempting an analysis but that the first flash of hearing was also important: I can remember me and my friends listening to Neubauten's Funf album and looking at each other and just letting it in. Same with Snivilisation and Daydream Nation and Allegory and Self and... everything.
People should love it or hate it; they shouldn’t be able to shrug it off. I’m glad that some people think he’s gone too far (How can you? The very idea is laughable) or that some think the spoken word is too disruptive to their precious beats (Um, Fuck Off). I’m glad because it’s an album that challenges people to be wrong about it. Yeah, it’s not Coil, it’s not perfect, not yet – some of the loops still sound too much like loops, some of the samples don’t feel self-evident or necessary** in the way that the Coil ones did – but this is still the best album of the year so far and more importantly, it’s probably destined to be everyone’s best album of 2012 sometime around 2032.
*but maybe it does. I'm going to arrange things in the right order tomorrow and listen to them right the way through all over again. This is considered and maybe I should do it that service. There could be a plan here I'm missing...
**Mmm, not sure what I mean by this except that it's a kind of odd sur-emotion (an aesthetic emotion) where, sometimes, the samples feel like they crept in behind the music and settled there unannounced, preparing. I hear the (sometimes silly) eruptions in Coil ('You've been exploding frogs again') and they are just... supposed to be there, as if the film was written and played out so it could eventually be used as a sample in that track. Same with Tricky's use of 'Let Me Tell You About My Mother' where he takes what was already a prosaic, quotidian source (Bladerunner) and just runs with it because it was already part of the song. I can't say what exactly makes it this way except that I can hear it in the music I'm trying to make too... sometimes a voice is exactly right, sometimes almost right, sometimes it's just there, hanging above the rest of the sounds like it doesn't belong. Most of the samples and voices in the Music For The Quiet Hour sections are almost right, some are exactly right, some just hang.