Platebutikken Tiger

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"Blood on My Hands", the most well-known release from dubstep producer (and co-owner of label Skull Disco) Shackleton, succeeds by restraint, its scintillating percussion loops so clearly and carefully etched that it's difficult to know what to make of the song's ghostly narrator: "When I see the towers fall, it cannot be denied/ That as a spectacle it is a realization of the mind." In any other dubstep producer's hands such a vision would be married to a groove of apocalyptic violence, or at least uncompromising grimness, but Shackleton realizes just how unnerving beauty can be. It's this (and the hi-hat quietly ticking on every half-beat) that allowed the track to cross over to minimal house dancefloors-- indeed, the subsequent Ricardo Villalobos remix, included on this two disc Skull Disco retrospective, had to stretch out past 18 minutes just to ward off charges of redundancy."Skull Disco" is often used as shorthand for the refined, delicate sound of the label's main producer Shackleton, ignoring the sound of the label's other owner-producer Appleblim, and the distance that separates the two. On the first disc of Soundboy Punishments their tracks are counterposed, only emphasizing their respective strengths and weaknesses. Appleblim, who contributes almost a third of the tracks here, is surprisingly close to dubstep hegemony, his stunted, slow-motion "halfstep" beats, nihilistic basslines, and overwrought breakdowns distinctive only for their relative subtlety and high production values. Appleblim is clearly a student of music history, and his productions bear the strong imprint of early techstep drum'n'bass' moody, midnight noir vibe-- in fact the stomping "Fear" is an open (and pretty great) homage to this sound. But what Appleblim and other halfstep producers often inherit from techstep are grooves that sound wounded and even crippled, dragging themselves forward in a painfully lopsided manner, as if all their limbs ended in bloody stumps. The crucial difference is tempo: The faster speeds of techstep allowed the grooves to be dynamic and fleet-footed in spite of their blood and gore; Appleblim's grooves mostly just stagger unpleasantly, their accumulated menace excreted in blaring explosions of bass.Shackleton's work raises entirely different questions: If his fluid, multi-textured rhythms clearly share dubstep's lineage, they're too ornate and perfect-sounding to be mistaken for any other producer's work. Set opener "Hamas Rule" is even more painfully refined than "Blood on My Hands", each percussive rustle placed with agonising care, while underneath the sub-bass roams and prowls with a lazy, feline grace. Shackleton's flair for intricacy is impressive and almost unmatched-- of all the dubstep producers operating, only Pinch and Mala can concoct such thrillingly delicate grooves, and then even they fall short of Shackleton's single-minded devotion to the cause.But the formalism and reserve of Shackleton's arrangements can render them as claustrophobic as they are compelling, like staring at beautifully sculpted (but locked and unscaleable) wrought iron gates. If Appleblim marshals together bundles of energy and menace without knowing what to do with them, Shackleton's production can seem like statues of invincible soldiers, only waiting for someone to enliven and animate them. I keep expecting these grooves to "brock out"-- to borrow a term from drum and bass-- but such brute physicality is rarely on the producer's agenda. Perhaps he thinks such displays would undermine the impressive self-containment and majesty of his arrangements, and he might be right.Still, when he succumbs (mostly on disc two) the results are stunning: "I Want To Eat You", at first slow and reverent, shifts from poised vigilance into a double-time and deadly battle, its rippling, snaking drums slicing through the majestic arrangement like glittering blades. And while Appleblim's line-towing conservativism largely bores, some of Soundboy Punishment's most enjoyable moments are those where Shackleton drifts closer to the scene orthodoxy of his partner in crime. The jittery grime/dubstep fusion of "Stalker" wears the producer's sonic signature more lightly than anything else by him, but its tense, paranoid stutters brilliantly live up to the track's title.Likewise, the spacious but restlessly energetic closer "You Make Me Cry", all fluttering bongos and stabbing halfstep beats, flawlessly appropriates the best ideas from Benga and Skream's more agile dubstep productions. Not surprisingly, it's on these excursions away from his perfected template that Shackleton can sound almost lighthearted. He should try it more often: The weight of possibility is enough that he hardly needs to make things heavier.