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Shackleton – Music For The Quiet Hour / The Drawbar Organ EPs

Woe To The Septic Heart!  

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.” 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. 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.


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