It will be difficult for me to write a review for Shed’s newest release, “The Killer.” Not because the album is too long, or redundant, or even downright boring. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. There’s just so much to say about it that I’m afraid the review will exceed a reasonable length. But this being Shed’s third full-length release proves that the German Techno revivalist shows no sign of slowing down. His first two albums, “Shedding the Past” and “The Traveller,” both released on Ostgut Ton, were well received in the German underground scene, and his newest (released under Modeselektor’s label 50 Weapons) is a reflection of a matured musical vision, one drawing from early 90’s techno as well as the sample-based music of UK-hardcore. The result is something truly unique, testing the limits of EDM as a genre and resurrecting a style of dance music often neglected in the modern club scene.
The opening track “ST3P/The Killer,” begins with a harsh, industrial drone, soon met by an airy synth line that gradually emerges from the background. The atmosphere vaguely resembles a structured tune even though all of the individual elements are submerged in static. There isn’t much of a discernible beat either, making me question whether or not this could comfortably be called EDM. On the other hand, this track relies heavily on repetition, which has a trance-inducing effect, and reflects a technique commonly associated with the EDM genre. Overall, I found it to be an intriguing opening track, a good set up for what’s to follow.
The next track, “Silent Witness,” is a more grounded tune than the opener; a gritty, percussive beginning comprised of heavy, static brush strokes and a blunt yet subdued bass drum. From the silence behind the music comes what sounds like a string orchestra performing in an empty concert hall. The final atmospheric element enters within the last minute of the track and sounds like a washing machine filled with thumbtacks. The musical elements blend and interlock, while slowly dismantling themselves and each other, gently scattering the music to dust.
I found the overall effect of the music to be disorienting, but strangely soothing as well. Listening to this track was similar to remembering some strange dream I had years ago, and at its finish I felt comforted but distanced from reality. Strange thoughts to be revealing in an album review, but this is the kind of music to be heard on “The Killer.” It’s music that tests the listener’s boundaries, questioning the line between fantasy and reality, between dreams and nightmares. I’d argue it’s nearly impossible to give this album a good listen and not walk away feeling…different.
The third track, “I Come by Night,” opens in a quietly frantic manner; the sounds of millions of ants working in a colony, busily moving nowhere in particular, growing ever more panicked until the entrance of a loop sounding like an old, malfunctioning machine establishes an uncomfortable beat. Bring in the killer bee drone around one minute, buzzing ominously above the beat, dissonant and angry, while below, the music is overtaken by what sounds like hundreds of metallic bubbles popping all around the stereo field.
Incredibly textural, threatening and apocalyptic, wholly intriguing. This track offers something of which most EDM artists are afraid. That is, Shed specializes in alienation, in making the listener feel lost and uncomfortable. He challenges the EDM genre through blending its ideology with those of electroacoustic music and musique concrtéte. There’s a great sense of education about the whole thing, a strong balance between intention and artistic uncertainty.
I think what I like best about track six, “Phototype,” is that it uses rhythm as its centerpiece, but the beat is never quite steady. This is best demonstrated at 45 seconds with the entrance of the coarse, disjointed bass beat. The line is looped in such a way that it’s vaguely coherent, perhaps even danceable, but is just off kilter enough to keep the listener searching for its center. The music surrounding the beat, namely the druggy synth chords fluctuating aimlessly in the background, gives the music a sense that it could all fall apart at any minute.
Which is another reason why this album is so great. That is, Shed seems to sense and embrace the near incoherence of his music, making him very intimately associated with the overall experience he creates. He’s standing right beside his listeners in the near-chaos, searching for solidity as well. While so much EDM focuses on the DJ consciously manipulating the listener, Shed places himself on equal footing with his audience, and this is something truly groundbreaking.
“V1OMF/ The Filler” unfortunately lives up to its title. The music is good, perhaps the most straightforward dance tune on the album, but when placed in context with other material on “The Killer,” it pales in comparison. I found one of stronger elements of the track to be the hard-hitting, disjointed dance beat that drives the energy of the song. But I can’t say I cared much for the melodic synth line; it’s too in-your-face, the synth tone is grating and placed too high in the mix, and it sounds like it was ripped off of a Daft-Punk album. I guess this track can effectively act as a crowd-pleaser, but in the end, this tune will most likely be forgotten.
The final track, “Follow the Leader,” opens strong with what sounds like the shaking of a box of silverware, and then, oh god, enter the cheesy, ballad synth grand piano, giving the track a rather unwelcome R n B feel. I’ll admit that the peak of the song delivers; the entrance of the drum beat, snare heavy and accenting the off beats, gives the music a fast, disorganized energy. But the beat does not upstage the fact that the piano tone is miserable. It’s cheap romance novel, or daytime soap opera. Bring back the bleak misery again, that’s when the music is strongest.
Admittedly, the album does lose a bit of steam near the end. It gets a bit cheesy, a bit redundant, brushes a little too closely to standard EDM. But the first seven tracks or so are absolutely fantastic. The music is consistently disorienting, but always hints at the possibility of solidity. His use of harsh, industrial loops induces a hazy trance that walks the line between pleasant daydream and horrible nightmare. After listening, I felt like I’d been processed by some great fictional machine, one that’s clear in intention, but unstable in functionality. The mood created is so unique and brilliant in its execution, I’m not sure it can be compared to much other music in the EDM world.
I could really just jab about this album for hours on end, but if I were to make one statement about the artist who created it, I’d say that Shed is someone that doesn’t need his audience to see him as something he isn’t. He creates music in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion and doesn’t exist solely for his stage persona like so many other EDM artists. His music is imbued with honesty and emotion, and, at its core, is about the shared experience between artist and listener. Shed’s “The Killer” is a near perfect album.