Few if any in the musical world lay claim to run a parallel to Matthew Herbert. The man has a seemingly endless list of ideas that are equally complemented by the ability to pull them off. Furthermore he somehow combines a busy and plentiful output with consistent attention to detail. Being near to the twenty-year mark in his career however, some might expect his creativity threshold to dwindle at this stage, as many artists and musicians do when they move through multiple decades…
In the build up to its release, “The Shakes” has been anticipated as his return to the dance oriented LP. Admittedly this is a fair description but too diminutive; there is far more to love here than just some danceable album tracks.
As per usual on a Herbert LP vocalists are given a role of prominence. Rahel of Hejira fame has her services retained from appearing throughout Parts 6-8 last year. Her male counterpart is Ade Omatoyo whose voice formerly gave backing to Amy Winehouse. The interchange between the two gives an almost operatic sense of melodrama to the record. To some it may seem over the top, but multiple listens dispel this impression.
There is nothing new to Herbert’s method of using pure melodic pop writing to antidote the sheer sonic excavation that is his production technique. This is the key in virtually every track. The album’s most anthemic tune Smart is a telling example. Herbert creates a fuzzy web of stomping percussion, wed to summery joy from Rahel’s vocals along with the chirpy horns and keys.
Immediately following is the monumental Stop, the album’s only duet between the otherwise alternating Omatoyo and Rahel. Initially it feels like we’re led into another floor-filler but what proceeds is a motoric twirling vortex of sound involving all quarters of the album’s cast. ‘Don’t ever stop’ is the closing mantra, and to say the least it rings true.
From hereafter Herbert leads us into more sensitive territory. Bed gives a borderline out of body experience with its Windows 98-esque ambience, and Silence delivers a state of gentle tranquillity that dares to drift and dart across the melodic spectrum. This is not to say the remainder cuddles us into our sleep. Herbert manages to uphold a lingering instability that looms across the latter half of the record. This is most apparent in Safety; a spiky and anxious song that sources part of its percussive trickle from recordings of used bullets.
The Shakes is evidence that Herbert’s creative juices are still flowing at a great pace and the twilight of his career could be some way away. Some may disregard it for it’s zealous flirtations with mainstream pop, but this would be foolish as his sonic vitality will always overpower and turn this supposed weakness into a strength. Whether he’s crushing dinners with a tank, following a pig with a microphone, or just making a normal (by his definition!) song you can seemingly always rely on Herbert to make you feel there are no limits to the sounds we can hear.
The Shakes is out now on Caroline International, order the album from Herbert’s website.