Shinedoe - The Observer

  • Explorations in world-building, equal parts present and future.
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  • At the midpoint of Jeff Mills and Jacqueline Caux's film, Man From Tomorrow, we watch an escalator ferrying passengers in an endless circle inside a brutalist concrete building while an anxious arpeggio and voiceover from Mills lend the scene the signature of classic sci-fi, from Metropolis to Blade Runner. But in the part that follows, there is a switch in tone, one that almost anticipates Shinedoe's release in Mills's digital-only series, The Escape Velocity. The music drops out, replaced by a radio dial moving across static as a pair of hands slowly unwrap speaker cables. Mills’s voiceover continues: "Music was never the problem. The problem was how we think music should be." On The Observer, Shinedoe rethinks what "music should be," or at least techno, providing us with not just images of a stark, dystopian future, but also glimpses of an alternate world to come. The record channels what Mills later on in the film describes as, "new ways of describing," fusing new age stargazing wanderlust with the steely template of second wave Detroit techno. On recent releases, Shinedoe has pared back her penchant for cinematic melody in favor of minimal funk, but across the six tracks on The Observer she unleashes her dramatic side, creating vignettes of alternate worlds. Shinedoe describes this record as bridging the distance between both the spiritual and the earthly, helping us avoid "getting lost in the external world." The description is apt: it's an album clearly aimed at the stars, but also invested in the here-and-now of being a sweaty body on the dance floor. The full effect of this duality is apparent on "Redraw All Senses." The song starts with an unhurried groove before undulating chords and a pinging synthline get pitched higher and higher in the mix. But quickly, the melody is stripped back and the focus returns to the unfussy and understated low-end, bringing us down to the ground after a quick trip to the sky. The vibe is similar on my favorite track, "Distraction." This one is built around a looped hand drum that gives it a tech house feel, though the synth makes it feel celestial. There are moments where the alien element does dominate. The bleepy transmissions from mission control on "The Observer" create a paranoid maze, while "Agape" layers minor key melodies over a far-off synth note that sounds like a tracking beacon floating through space. But Shinedoe reigns in these tendencies when she ups the BPM for more corporeal encounters with the third kind. "Before The Silence" is blistering warehouse techno where airy pads battle with a manic synth and concrete kicks. "Control" is also destined for peak time, but the melody has a cosmic lightness with the dub techno-style hiss on the chords. Listening to the record, I was reminded of another musician operating at the intersection of sound and space, Sun Ra. The pioneering jazz artist once wrote, "Space music is an introductory prelude to the sound of greater infinity [...] It is a different order of sounds synchronised to a different order of being." I find this a helpful way to approach The Observer. Ra and Shinedoe are both artists who understand that writing music for space is also writing music for the soul. And this, to return to Mills's refrain of "how we think music should be," is the reorientation that Shinedoe provides: a reminder that we can’t easily separate the earthly from the ethereal, or the spacey from the groovy.
  • Tracklist
      01. The Observer 02. Before The Silence 03. Distraction 04. Redraw All Sense 05. Agape 06. Control