- Few producers could pull off a line like "in the battle for it all, there's a boy with a hand and love within," but Matthew Herbert has never been one to shy away from such statements. His new album, The Shakes, is full of impassioned declarations and inspirational vagaries ("rise to unknown places, love in symmetry").
It's a tone that reflects the mythology surrounding the name Herbert, which the producer hasn't used on a release since 2006's Scale. Throughout a career that's used deconstructed sounds to address everything from capitalism to meat production to the inner workings of the human body, Herbert has typically used his surname only for more romantic albums, crediting the more rigorously experimental ones, like One Pig and Plat Du Jour, to his full name. It's a small distinction, but it points to the more forgiving intent behind The Shakes, which is often wispy, tender and at times almost saccharine.
Herbert's love of unconventional sound sources does appear on The Shakes, for which he sampled protest marches and, on the track "Safety," created percussion with used bullets. His affinity for plush sounds that go straight to your pleasure centers is in full force—The Shakes is worth hearing for the sonic detail alone. The best tracks have an inclusive, sweeping abandon that rivals the high points of Scale. "Smart," featuring a snappy vocal from singer Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne, demonstrates an antic confluence of brass, burbling basslines and choppy percussion that should make younger producers green with envy. The album's most seductive moment comes on "Even," an enchanting low simmer of a track that evokes slowly dissipating fog.
As on Scale and Bodily Functions, Herbert's most successful when working with the female voice. Debebe-Dessalegne lends Herbert subtly seductive background vocals on the waltzing, feathery "Silence." His treatment of Ade Omotayo's meatier voice tends to be more straightforward, culminating in a series of stately ballads, the most emotionally climactic of which is "Bed."
If all of this sounds a bit out-there, well, it is. In 2006, Scale was an anomaly, the work of a sophisticate with no regard for the defining mood anywhere but in his studio. If anything, The Shakes sounds even more out of step with the zeitgeist, focusing Herbert's dance production chops into exaggerated feats of emotion. The imposing end-piece of the album is "Peak," a striking combination of increasingly histrionic vocal layering with rushing techno percussion and swelling pipe organ. Show me another producer who's doing anything like that.