Shackleton’s techno haunted dub (or should that be dub haunted techno?) productions always had a freakish, mummified feel to them. They lived up to his old label’s name too – Skull Disco. Listen to the labyrinthine and rolling rhythms of older tracks like -Stalker’ or -Blood on my Hands’, and it is easy to imagine a ghoulish knees up under the Egyptian pyramids, where powdery corpses dance in the airless gloom. On 3 EPs, his first release on Berlin’s Perlon label (home of vocal admirer Ricardo Villalobos), Shackleton sharpens his trademark sound up considerably, branches out into newer, even stranger territory, yet never loses that unnerving sense of forgotten dark places which announced his arrival on the scene in the first place.
3 EPs sets its eerie stall out early with a frigid gust of synthesiser and a garbled vocal sample which seems to be taken from a motivational tape for dealing with negative thoughts. This is soon layered over with a horizontally rolling pattern of rhythms which have the remarkable sound of being individually programmed right down to the pat of each beat. Shackleton was never about the 4/4 thud, but what he achieves on this, and later tracks, is astonishing, and it brings to mind a recent interview with Ricardo Villalobos where the Chilean producer spoke at length about his obsessive desire to eke naturalistic depth out of programmed beats. It is no wonder then, that he holds Shackleton in such high regard. To take a single example, -Mountains of Ashes’ pops with an underlying Eastern motif that brings to mind nothing short of well worn animal hide pulled tightly over ornately carved wood. Add to this, a vast stereoscopic vista of fissuring cracks, distant drones and ever-evolving micro-rhythms, and you’ll have some small idea at the level of attention to sonic detail going on here.
Thematically, the album feels held together by the motivational speaker who is sampled at the start. Dismantled excerpts of this repeating exhortation return at odd points over the album’s progression. To sample a voice advising the listener to remain calm and positive before unleashing a series of tracks which are unsettling to say the least, is a knowing bit of headfuckery worthy of Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi. The voice finally hangs suspended over convulsing bursts of apocalyptically low bass with a garbled rendition of -he’s got the whole world in his hands’ keeping it company. Whatever this is supposed to evoke, it’s hardly anybody’s -happy place’ by a long shot. It is, however, astonishing and typical of the record as a whole.