- Sam Shackleton is one of those artists who could follow his muse down almost any path as lengthy and meandering as his basslines, and run into accolades at every stop. The UK's foremost shamanic summoner hasn't necessarily embarked on a career full of twists and turns—what determines a curveball for one of electronic music's most singular artists is up for debate—but it's rarely been less than challenging. Amidst the considerable hubbub surrounding his Honest Jon's releases and his Fabric mix in 2010, it's easy to forget that he founded a new label that same year, Woe To The Septic Heart. The two tracks on its inaugural 12-inch were Shackleton's most exploratory, with "Man on a String" stretching beyond the 12-minute mark. Lo and behold in 2012, an oversized box set shows up, adorned with the same elaborate art that decorated the first Septic Heart release, but more importantly, containing a wealth of new material.
The first aspect of the box concerns those three slabs of vinyl, the Drawbar Organ EPs—a collection of rumbling hymns to made-up deities and ancient arbiters. Splattered with sonorous tones from the cheap electric organ that he acquired during the writing of his Three EPs release for Perlon, the titular instrument is their defining feature. Layered in uneven formations on "Powerplant" or melodic and even taunting on "(for the) Love of Weeping," it's Shackleton's own demented circus of charred corpses and reanimated figures. There's a certain looseness on Drawbar compared to the hardlined circular movements of his previous work. "Seven Present Tenses" on a sufficient system is a step into an alternate reality, a motion-sick blur of phasing effects, digital distortion, choral vocals and old-school psychedelia, transforming existing ideas into inspiring futurist narratives.
That sense of freeform sprawl is fully explored on Music for the Quiet Hour, a single composition and collaboration with vocalist Vengeance Tenfold spread over five parts and 60 minutes. If there was anything close to a Shackleton rule book, it eats it up, spits its out and throws the soggy remnants into some gurgling swamp. Those searching basslines are mostly replaced by threatening lashings of low-end, the stuff of soundsystem nightmares and bad trips. It's accented by resonant drones, skittering drums that skate across cracked marble surfaces and all sorts of tonal turns and shifts in mood that should feel drastic but figure as minute maneouvres in the grand scheme of things.
The first three parts of Quiet Hour build to a furor of sampled vocals and odd rhythmic devices with the occasional interjection from our grumbly protagonist. The MC's gruff and distinct voice is captured in bits, pulled apart and reshaped by Shackleton into disconcerting polemics and groans, occasionally coaxing full sentences. It's all window dressing for the 21-minute "Part 4," however, a tour de force of build-and-release, of cinematic atmosphere and a soundstaging so beguilingly huge I'm not sure what kind of structure could encompass it. The unsettling soundscape is completed by a reading of a letter from Tenfold written to his granddaughter who lives in the year 2065, painting a stream-of-consciousness picture of some vaguely dystopian society to match the parade of aural grotesqueries.
If an hour-plus song with menacing spoken-word ramblings of an alternate future all sounds a little Rush to you, you're not wrong. But whether it's Shackleton's considerable artistic cachet or some flippant fluke, he pulls it off without the slightest wandering foot. It takes a lot of patience and passion to craft a coherent hour-long piece, but there's so much blood and soul poured into Music for the Quiet Hour that it almost feels effortless. Along with the fascinatingly fragmented Drawbar Organ EPs, the box set presents what's either a closing chapter or a new beginning in the career of one of electronic music's most luminous illuminati. I'm not sure which, honestly. It's hard to tell where something ends and something else begins when you're given a text written in a completely unknown language, but Shackleton's just happens to be one that sounds amazing even when you have no idea what's being said.
CD1: Music for the Quiet Hour
01. Music For The Quiet Hour Part 1
02. Music For The Quiet Hour Part 2
03. Music For The Quiet Hour Part 3
04. Music For The Quiet Hour Part 4
05. Music For The Quiet Hour Part 5
CD2: The Drawbar Organ EPs
01. (For The) Love Of Weeping
03. Seven Present Tenses
05. Test Tubes
08. Wish Your Better
09. It Is Not Easy