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Shackleton - Fabric 55

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Artist: Shackleton

Album: Fabric 55

Label: Fabric

Review date: Dec. 7, 2010

Shackleton’s Fabric 55, out just in time to parachute atop year-end lists, is a studio rendering of a live set from earlier this summer at the label’s namesake club. The mix’s execution, dexterity, insularity and even its palette evokes Fabric’s previous one-man-show lodestar: Ricardo Villalobos. In 2007, he dropped a Fabric mix comprised mainly of previously unreleased cuts that continued to push the parameters of minimalist techno toward something more austere yet elastic. Now, it’s Sam Shackleton’s turn to crack open his secret stash and crash the metrics.

When his first few singles made the rounds in the mid-2000s, Shackleton’s clangorous Arabia and metallic threnodies appeared to be a mutation of dubstep, a natural twist of an amorphous and evolving genre united by colossal bass, resonant erasures, and a skulking stride. But his Perlon long-player of 2009, Three EPs, and now Fabric 55 show him expanding his sound even further. The polyrhythmic agility and swarming riddims remain, trimmed as always with bonsai precision, as does the maximum-strength shiatsu bass. But there’s a new found purposefulness. The product perhaps of his relocation to Berlin and/or the necessities of performing to a crowd ready for the dancefloor, Shackleton’s Fabric threads through limbs and seeps through cavities like blackened plasma, carrying the body along a gnarled current fizzing with kernel-sized beats. It’s dubstep, perhaps, only disassembled and disembodied.

A womb record, it courses with biological acoustics: the shushing sibilance of the bloodstream, the heart’s muffled thump and the scattered sputters of organs. Lest we forget, Shackleton remains fond of anatomical imagery, at least in the monikers of his record labels: the defunct Skull Disco and now Woe to the Septic Heart.

The album opens with one of Shackleton’s many plunders from self-help tapes and hypnosis sessions. A woman speaks calmly: “You’re beginning to come up.” And for the remainder of Fabric 55, Shackleton delivers on this promise of euphoria, chemical and otherwise. The apocalyptic portent of tracks past is emitted here not through words, but in the nervy exoticism of Shackleton’s bushland nocturnes. Beats flick and scurry, mirroring each other in labyrinthine curlicues. Seeming mechanical only in their indefatigability, they’re as organic as a cloud of sawdust or a breath of smoke. Fearsome bass rolls like felled redwood trunks under a canopy of ominous chords. “International Fires” twirls woozily around a vacuum of ghostly chorales, marbled by glutinous strands of synth blubber. New single “Man on a String” crests on a lump of chirruping horns that recall the time-lag mandalas of Terry Riley.

Falling somewhere between a greatest hits victory lap — a malarial “HypnoAngel” here, a foreboding “Massacre” there — and a lustrous unearthing of brand new material, Fabric 55 is relentlessly transfixing. Stitched together seamlessly, its 22 tracks make for a single, continuous convulsion that somehow conflates clenched tension with incandescent release.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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Three EPs

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