I originally wrote this review for 365Mag.com
in August 2008Mike Shannon
has been releasing records for almost ten years now. He is one of the more diverse artists to release minimalistic music. Being diverse is a quality that's good to have as an artist in the contemporary minimal techno
climate. Most producers seem to have run out of ideas to make something purely minimal. And those who think they don't, sound like it. Those who never heard any of Shannon's records might think that he's a breath of fresh air but the truth is that he has been producing high quality music that have been sounding different from the rest for years.Plus 8
is one of those classic labels that deserve respect. Not only did it spawn some of the most memorable techno records ever but it's run by what's probably the most talked about personality in the scene, Richie Hawtin
. Since both Richie and Mike have been around for some time they are no strangers to each other. Rumours have it that Mike has been bugging Richie about a release on Plus 8
for years now. Also some people told me last year that Richie was playing some really nice unknown Shannon tracks. With its almost 80 minutes of play time we can say with confidence it's finally there: Mike Shannon's full length album on the legendary Plus 8.
The first thing anyone will notice about this album is that it has a very different style then most records on Plus 8
in the recent years. In my perception Adam Beyer
's A Walking Contradiction
release in 2005 defined the style of Plus 8
up until now. The recent release by Tony Rohr
and Alexi Delano
already had different more bass orientated vibe about it. Shannon his release departs even further from the minimalistic techno in the direction of Detroit techno. Which in my book means less darker and more warmer and melodic sounds. Warmth in music is a hard to define concept so let's just hope you and me got the same definition.
Since the history of Plus 8
started in Detroit, the story in some ways has gone full circle. I wouldn't quite say this record goes back to the roots of the label, of course it has some modern day influences, but it's much closer to classics like Amenity and Model 8 in style than records in the labels recent history. The timing for that change in sound is right in line with the recent influx of house elements in techno music. Everyone in minimal techno is looking for some new and fresh influences. In a strange paradoxical twist of musical faith the answer for most people seemed to be going back to the past: House. This album has some obvious house characteristics but I wouldn't define it as house. From a marketing perspective it's the perfect timing, although these tracks were probably produced long before the trend became so visible. So Detroit, techno, house, warmth, ambient all those elements fit perfectly together to make a surprisingly cohesive whole. Some tracks put one of these characteristics more in de spotlight then others which gives the album the diversity it needs. Since this album consists of a respectable eleven tracks (and two more on the digital version), I won't bore you trying to describe every tiny detail and sound. Instead I'll try to describe the flow of the album from head to start.
The album starts out with some spatial ambient sounds that somewhat builds the tensions and sets the tone. I could see the first track being used as an opening to a variety of DJ sets. Not so long after that you will begin hearing a more apparent danceable structure. You will notice that the glitchy sounds that were part of the more ambient introduction are being used all through the album. The following tracks are marked by some irresistible melodies that will keep your foot tapping throughout. Sometimes these melodies are accompanied by more over the top sounds that reinforce them. These are not the trance type nor the 'bleep blop' type but proper deep melody lines. Although I have listened to the album extensively over the last couple of days the tracks still sound fresh every time I hear them, which is quite an accomplishment.
Just when you were tapping your foot and swinging your shoulders while sitting at your desk, the pace of the album begins to pick up. At least it feels like it because the tracks get a more rhythmic feeling. The still have the above elements but let's say they get a more dance-floor / nightclub feeling. Be aware if you are listening to this at work because you will look funny if your trying to dance, sit and work at the same time (especially when listening on headphones).
Luckily the album doesn't erupt next into some big warehouse rave Detroit record. What I'm trying to say is, don't expect to hear something like Jeff Mills' 'The bells' on here. And that's a good thing since Shannon instead chooses to maintain the same feeling while shifting the focus a little more to house. These tracks sound like they could have been classics from ten years ago but without the cheesiness and more polish. As we are getting to the end of the physical version the record begins to settle in to a more laid back position. Some longer stretched out sounds are introduced to keep things interesting. If you are listening in chronological order these small changes in musical direction feel very natural. I could also see these tracks work perfectly at an after hour. The album ends with a more harmonic sounding track which will put your tapping foot in a more comfortable tempo.
If I would have to visualize the flow of the whole album it would look like a wave peaking right at the middle. The colors on the cover communicate the music quite well in my perspective: toned down but rich in structure. The cover almost has a feeling of autumn about it with it brownish backdrop and it's abstract representation of a tree.
Since you are probably reading this on-line I assume you entered the digital age. That's a good thing since it gives you the option to purchase two more digital only tracks. Both tracks extend perfectly on the rest of the album giving you more of the same. Which is a good thing in this case since the whole album has as pretty consistent sound. Unlike most Plus 8
material Shannon produced an album that's not only suited for DJs but home listening as well. You might say it almost feels like a complete DJ set when listening from start to finish.
Only one more question remains open: Does it deliver and meet expectations? Well if you are craving for the next Skoozbot
record, then no this probably isn't meeting your expectations. It exceeded mine though. This being Shannon and not Paco Osuna
I knew upfront that this wouldn't be another Italian style techno
record. I wouldn't call it very ground breaking maybe even traditional, mixing technological advancements with old musical influences. Where it exceeds my expectations is in execution. Every time I listen to it I get a feeling of polish and quality. An achievement on its own is the fact that it doesn't bore easily considering the choice of style. So yes, it delivers. Let's just hope this isn't the beginning of another era of sameness on Plus 8
. Personally I'm not to worried since I suspect this album stands on his own.