Image: Woe to the Septic Heart!
Pigeonholing the sort of music that elusive English producer Shackleton creates toward a particular categorisation is likely a futile exercise. While the Skull Disco and Woe to the Septic Heart! founder’s early work could easily slip into the garage and dubstep cannon, it’s his later offerings that become far more difficult to pinpoint. As his sonic identity evolved, it saw a greater influence from the sound and rhythms from world music; the chanted mantras of India, the tribal drum beats of Africa and other increasingly more nondescript pieces of sound mixed together to form his sort of dark psychedelia. Equal parts Perturbator gloom and Burial abstractionism, Shakleton’s contemporary work defies categorisation by instead being a mode of mood conjuring. Dark, atmospheric and slightly uncanny, works like Wakefulness and Obsession or the Zimpel collaboration Primal Forms leaned further into rudimentary percussive elements and a deft sense of shamanism. His latest album and first solo project in nearly a decade, Departing Like Rivers is in his own words, “not a ‘concept album’ and is without any collaborators. I just wanted to focus on my core sound really but without any of the genre tropes that may have been present the last time I made a solo album.”
A renewed focus on those ‘core sounds’ means that Departing Like Rivers, which is released on the producer’s own Woe to the Septic Heart!, runs through the phases and signature motifs of Shackleton’s transmutable sonic persona, and reconciling the parts together to open a portal into his trippy multiverse. The world that Shackleton has built by way of his music is one defined by the meshing, or perhaps rather melting, of the organic into the electronic. Here is a place where vocal clips of English folk songs are chopped and reformed into a new, alien dialect that is at once familiar but beyond recognition. Something Tells Me / Pour Out Like Water begins the album and over thirteen minutes, pulls us into an extraterrestrial faerie circle of pounding organic drums before slowly unravelling into a trance-like, distorted chant. Immediately, Departing Like Rivers completely opens the gates into Shackleton’s netherworld. This alternate dimension is a space that dances through phrases of minimal yet darkly atmospheric foreboding, as on Shimmer, Then Fade, or one which takes you on hallucinatory trips into further dimensions as with the slowly warping The Turbulent Sea.
The dark psychedelia of fusing twinkling chimes, shamisen like strings and whirling alien drones on tracks like The Light That Was Hidden and the way Shackleton creates his own ambiguous language from samples gives the entire experience a sort of tribal spiritualism. Often, there is a distinct ritualism that he conjures in his sound, giving credence to those who may regard this music as “trance.” Transformed Into Love, the longest outing on the album, is also the passage to its ending. It’s a slithering, strangely sensual spectre that writhes through layers of bratty vocal cuts and pulsating drum throbs. Brassy cymbals and simmering synths add to the ooze, until the track builds into a pseudo-techno polyrhythmic climax. It’s one of the album’s strongest, most immersive moments, and as it’s conclusion it leaves you feeling as if you’ve just come out the other end of a reality bending wormhole. Departing Like Rivers, for the most part, is an album designed to transport you somewhere new. It suggests visions of an ancient or alien civilisation, strange ritualism and a sort of pagan poetry that builds a strikingly vivid world the further it progresses. It feels epic in this sense, a fantasy or science fiction novella told by way of sound or, more specially, Shackleton’s unparalleled sonic vision. Impossibly preternatural, Departing Like Rivers is Shackleton’s most revealing work to date; a celebration of the bizarre and unique creative prowess of its progenitor.
Listen to Transformed Into Love from Departing Like Rivers below.