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Shifted
Arrangements In Monochrome 1&2 Albert Freeman , December 18th, 2014 11:42

If one is to follow the work of Guy Brewer closely, there are quite a lot of things to admire about the drum & bass producer-turned-techno experimentalist, but one of the most striking is his candour. Whether in interviews, on Twitter, or spending time chatting with him in New York and Berlin, he has never been afraid to turn the lens on himself just as harshly as he does on his contemporaries, and one gets the sense that he is all too acutely aware of his limitations and his position in the overall history of electronic music. He may underestimate it though: after all, as Shifted he helped lead the newest charge into hard, textural techno, and his Avian and Mira labels and other music projects are consistently cutting edge and sometimes unclassifiable, often leaving behind lucrative areas they help build interest in for lesser explored sounds. Avian is equally striking for its design, which is similarly detailed and uncompromising, corresponding to the music it releases, and as time moves on, Shifted has risen to become one of techno's most consistently intriguing projects.

Brewer is an extremely prolific producer between his various aliases – Covered In Sand, Alexander Lewis, Relay, and more – and for the second time in his career, he has released an album-esque pair of 12"s that, if indications are good, drop major hints as to where his next steps are and move much farther down the line than last winter's Under A Single Banner into staking out territory for his primary project that few can follow him onto. A few years ago, Shifted was for all intents a purely functional techno moniker, but those days are becoming increasingly distant memories, and whatever Brewer's intent in not naming Arrangements In Monochrome 1 & 2 as an album may be, it is, alongside his more searching aliases, his most experimental work and also his most mature. The nine tracks here offer an impressive spread of textural noise experiments, brutally harsh and richly detailed techno, and points in between, and if one combines the two parts into a whole, surpass any of his other solo work in artistic impact.

There's been a clear direction of development in Shifted since it started, but up until now calling any of it something other than purist techno would be stretching things; Brewer would no doubt wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. Certainly his 2013 Bed Of Nails album presented a tenuous step away from the harshly clipped, razor edge techno he initially become known for, with the duskier sound palette and feedback-laced soundscapes taking in elements of pure noise and industrial music. Over the nine pieces here, for the first time the overriding aspect of the works is not techno, but instead Brewer's increasingly adept sound designing, and much more than before, there's an organic element that indicates he's gone past mastery of production design and into performance flourishes. Turning up the volume on most of the tracks here yields a techno beat somewhere in the arrangement, but more often than not it's buried in the mix, awash in layers of static, droning synthesiser textures, and often missing essential elements that create a much more impressionistic outcome than he has attempted in the past.

The sequencing also plays similarly to an album, perhaps one divided in two parts but still definitely composed. On both halves, he begins with gently rhythmic noise compositions - 'You're A Replacement' and 'The Incoherent'. This tactic is of course familiar to the point of cliché from many techno full-lengths, and if he were to drop the idea there, it would be simply a ruse. Instead, the pieces work as tone-setters, indicating that the kind of detailed arrangement work and soundscaping on each is going to be part and parcel of the rest of the EPs. The second part concludes similarly with the grayscale dub of Lénine, where the buzzing, surging synthesiser lead, detailed use of reverb and echo, and pulsing drum programming envelops the listener and comes to a subtle, darkly beautiful close.  

Of the remaining six pieces, the two title tracks (one on each EP), '6ft Of Silence', and 'Entartung' are all undoubtably techno, but there remains a certain difference, and each is distinct from the other while remaining part of the whole. 'Arrangement in Monochrome I' is harsh even by Brewer's standards, with a grinding midrange noise sequence insistently occupying center stage and becoming thrashier as the arrangement becomes denser, which it does layer by layer as it moves forward. Dubbed-out stabs rub uneasily against grim, pummeling techno percussion, and he masterfully uses the friction between the two feelings to draw explosions of noise out of the tension before winding down abruptly. '6ft Of Silence' leaves out the nastier elements in favor of droning reverb that sits more easily with the dub elements, but the rhythm section is equally merciless.

Everything on the second EP is more subsumed in texture. At its harshest moment in 'Entartung', the processing of the percussion elements is steadily taken deeply into dub, effectively derailing the unchanging drum machine backbone. The second title track is perhaps most similar to prior Shifted material, a lumbering, steadily growing techno monstrosity with a knife-edged hat at centre and an insistent, unchanging bass figure underneath, but the wild explosion of noise-saturated vocals, sucked back into the mix via dub processing, is still a massive step forward into power electronics for the producer and is reflective of the techniques used elsewhere on the EPs. The remaining two pieces, 'Second Wash' and 'The Velvet Rope' are kindred spirits, both taking reduced tempos and subtracting certain portions from strict techno composition to focus on repeated bass sequences and sculpted carpets of tonal wash, drones, and noise.

Whether a matter of modesty, marketing, timing, or ambition, releasing Arrangements In Monochrome in two parts rather than as an album does little to diminish the depth of his accomplishment here. Both as artist and as a label head Shifted has been responsible for a lot of striking, forward-thinking music in recent years, and his journey from new techno phenom into a producer who deals fluidly in industrial, noise, power electronics, and dub has been a fascinating one to watch and will undoubtedly continue to move apace. If his previous album found him in a transitional phase, here he has crossed the boundary into making sounds that, both within the movement they arise from and on their own terms, stand out for their expressiveness and excellence.  

 

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