"Percussion heavy and dubby, Sam Shackleton teams up with the imitable Shigeru Ishihara for his grooviest album in a decade"
Over the past couple years it feels like Sam Shackleton, long regarded as one of dance music’s most enigmatic (and beloved) “curmudgeons,” has been warming up. 2021’s ‘Departing Like Rivers’, his first solo outing since ‘Music for the Quiet Hour / The Drawbar Organs’ EP, left behind his experiments with live instruments and returned to his original suite of electronics.
Things were still dark – rhythms appearing like sunspots, organ melodies rusted to the point of breaking, and vocal snippets proclaiming imminent apocalypse – but it was certainly his most accessible record in a decade. He doubled down on last year’s ‘The Majestic Yes‘ where he reworked traditional Senegalese rhythms into a dubby 12-inch that might even work in a DJ set.
The thaw continues on a collaborative album that sees him meet a kindred spirit, Shigeru Ishihara. Best known originally for writing KFC-themed gabber under his Scotch Egg alias before joining British band Seefeel amidst their dance music makeover in the early 2010s.
Shigeru Ishihara, like Shackleton, has a penchant for the weird and brings a dubwise sensibility to the mids and highs across ‘Death by Tickling’. Alternating between the dark and the silly, these are 10 tracks of dubby melodies splayed over haunted house drum circles.
Things aren’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but as the tracks unfold, little winks shine through. “Shattered,” for example, is heavy as they come with its initial walls of reverb and plonked drums, but then the two lay down some headbanger-bass strums that are just a bit too over-the-top. Or on album highlight, “Love Songs,” the two get close to a Hotflush-style techno groove with a muscular arpeggio and layered hand drums, but then the bottom drops out with a string breakdown that reminded me of a dubbed Sound of Music. And it’s hard not to smile when that snake charmer melody comes twinkling in on “Serotonin.”
But if Ishihara sneaks some jokes into the melodies, the drums are as serious as ever. As Shackleton explained, “I like tonal sounds and I like percussion to have a melodic aspect to it.” Like his best records then, the distinction between rhythm and melody disintegrates across ‘Death by Tickling’.
The first minute of “Final Spasm,” for example, starts with a bleeping synth line, but the synth is supplanted by a series of high-pitched drums. This back-and-forth continues on the track, making it increasingly difficult to tell where the synthesizers end and the percussion begins. Both “Deliver the Soul” and “Opium Vibration” are straight percussive jam sessions with someone hitting MPC samples saved from a ghost tour.
This rhythmic swagger makes it so some of these tracks might work in a club. Alongside the techno propulsion of “Love Songs,” the two aim for a Salon Des Amateur-style anthem on “Five Butterflies.” They riff on a traditional Japanese string melody in the first half of the track before it slows to a sludgy drug chug. The opposite occurs on “Shattered,” where, after a sludgy start, they end with a final 2-minutes north of 130 BPM.
Shackleton’s primary output over the past years has been collaborations. He’s cast his net wide – from the jazzy clarinet improv with Waclam Zimpel to alien melodrama worthy of a Mars soap opera with Anika. Initially some of these collaborations might catch you by surprise, but everyone he works with shares a similar penchant for the idiosyncratic.
Ishihara, like Shackleton, has never sat still. Lately, he’s been writing everything from trap-meets-death metal mixtapes to dread-filled dancehall. When these two singular universes collide, the resulting supernova is an immersive explosion of dub and drums. If they aren’t tickling one another per se, Shackleton and Ishihara are certainly having fun with their machines.
‘Death by Tickling’ is scheduled for release on 31 March via Silver Triplet. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
1. The Blue Sun
2. Asterids (Enter Life)
3. Five Butterflies
4. Deliver the Soul
5. Final Spasm
6. Love Songs
7. Opium Vibration
10. The Eleventh Voyage