There aren’t many electronic musicians whose sound is unmistakably and exquisitely theirs and theirs only. Over the past ten/fifteen years few have been successful in such an arduous task. Burial, Andy Stott, Actress come to my mind. But if I have to choose one producer whose name alone evokes a whole sound-world, I’d blindly go for Sam Shackleton.
Since his debut in 2004, he has constantly refined and reinvented his style, as if challenging himself to go further and get weirder with every release. The “maverick psychedelic ritual trance maestro” debuts on Shapednoise’s Cosmo Rhythmatic label with a new project, Tunes of Negation, involving singer Heather Leigh, percussionist Takumi Motokawa, and mallet player Raphael Meinhart. This collaborative nature results in what probably is the most abstract work Shackleton has put his hands on.
Comprised of five long pieces, Reach The Endless Sea is nothing less than a sensorial experience; it’s a journey, a lysergic scuba dive into a sonic non-place above/outside/beneath our everyday world. Everything in this record exudes a mystical, transcendental aura: from the title, inspired by a 13th century mystic, to the slow pace of shifting rhythms, to the solemnity of Leigh’s singing, to the time dilation due to the hypnotic melodies. It may seem as if I’m describing a psychedelic album from the ‘60s, or a krautrock one from the ‘70s; indeed, these are the closest reference points, rather than contemporary developments and trends of electronic music. This is not to say that Shackleton looks back to trippy hippies, but that the man is in a league of its own.
The press release mentions “spiritual depths by means of sonic perseverance”, and it’s exactly what we are confronted with while listening. Indeed, spirituality and syncretism have been acquiring an ever-central role in Shackleton’s releases of the last few years. Long gone are the days of Skull Disco; here, new age and fourth world approaches are valued more than heavyweight bass pressure. If it’s true that Reach The Endless Sea is closer than ever to the fourth world mindset, it’s also true that this would be too reductive a label to encompass the compositional range, the unpredictability and the idiosyncrasy of Sam Shackleton. Sometimes leaning on Indian raga cyclical structure, sometimes resembling the transcendence-through-repetition typical of minimalism, Reach The Endless Sea provides a kaleidoscopic experience which almost seizes the listener with vertigo as its free-floating and swirling rhythms bounce back and forth restlessly.
What emerges once again is the universal nature of Shackleton’s music. It defies spatiotemporal connotations, as if coming from an outer-world. Austere and seductive at the same time, listening to it feels like a ritual for rebirth that disrupts every known point of anchorage.
Psych? Prog? New age? Experimental? Kosmische music? Avantgarde? None, just Shackleton at the top of his game doing what only he can do.