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Pinch & Shackleton - Pinch & Shackleton

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Artist: Pinch & Shackleton

Album: Pinch & Shackleton

Label: Honest Jon's

Review date: Jan. 23, 2012

Shackleton was the first dubstep that really clicked for me and a number of my friends. Burial was great but too clearly "dubstep for people who don’t like dubstep," and The Bug was a little too old guard to really count. This was back in ’06–’07, in California, when only a couple Digital Mystikz 12”s were filtering through Amoeba Records and the whole thing seemed really wobbly, macho, and British. But "Blood on My Hands" and the Soundboy Punishments compilation were revelations of unhinged experimentation, and hints at a broader horizon beyond the post-jungle/2-step vibe. Shackleton linked the teeming alien landscape of UK electronic music with a broader world of musical experimentation: percolating North African drum samples, black hole sub-bass, creepy 9/11 poetry, melancholic chords, and a very distant techno thump. I was sold.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the promise of those early 12”s has been beyond fulfilled. A highlight reel of the past five years in UK music would show the rise of Hyperdub, "Archangel," purple, funky, Hotflush, Feist covers, Where Were U in ’92, donk, future bass, Modern Love, footwork comps and subsequent appropriation, and generally an explosion of ideas and divergent styles perhaps not seen since the ’90s. Remember when everyone was talking about minimal? Yeah, me neither.

It’s this milieu that makes Pinch & Shackleton possible. What is it? A meeting of the minds between two UK heavies, sure, but also a drifting, shape-shifting field of a record, as much a sonic environment as it is a collection of songs, and definitely not anything related to the club. Over nine tracks, these two atomize and rearrange musical fabric and genre tropes beyond recognition, constructing an immersive and unsettling dead zone that sits somewhere between John Chowning, Morricone and Demdike Stare.

Shackelton’s signature elements — especially those nervous hand drums — are certainly present, but even more than on Three EPs, they’re dubbed out and cut up to the max. Where that record worked an austere, teeth-gritting minimalism that seemed specifically commissioned by Perlon, Pinch & Shackleton is always on the move. Ominous, cinematic synths and heavy sine-wave drift drive the characteristic bass-heavy grooves down unexpected portals, and one of the album’s most aggravating and exciting aspects is its constant flux, with expectations constantly upended and dynamic shifts resolving in completely unintuitive ways.

As a result, it’s difficult to pick out a signature track or section of Pinch & Shackleton. It all just flows, never exploding but never falling into a stupor, either. The Moritz von Oswald Trio, who similarly marry electroacoustic improv with techno sonics, is the obvious comparison. Still, Pinch and Shackleton are, for lack of a better word, more awesome. Von Oswald leans toward high-minded, continental perfection, but Pinch and Shackleton haven’t forgotten the terrifying side of their UK roots. Skull Disco laid the groundwork for 2011 heavies like Andy Stott, Demdike, and Raime, and this record stands easily alongside those bad trips. But where Stott encrusts his bass in layers of game-changing rot, these elder statesmen exude a command of their language and craft that effortlessly laps the youngbloods. It’s ridiculous hearing them set up an awesomely tweaked groove and then immediately dismantle it to reveal a different, weirder groove under that and then subsequently dismantle that groove to reveal ever more layers of space and dread. It’s what I imagine being a celebrated philosopher is like, seeing so deeply into the structure of life and the mind, possibly never able to stop thinking.

Stott & co. have one advantage over these masters: a direct line of attack. Music as high functioning as the tracks of Pinch & Shackleton can be overwhelming. They need your full attention. They’re complex and without applicable usefulness. You don’t dance or drive or make out or chop up veggies to this record. You pretty much only listen and listen deeply to it. It’s a master class but not quite a masterpiece, perhaps a bit too busy or in need of a hook or two or something, but that’s immaterial. To witness the sprawling, light-speed-in-every-direction evolution of UK electronica has been one of the major highlights of the past few years, and this is one of the craziest, darkest examples. If they decide to do a follow-up, it’ll be a fucking monster.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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