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Pinch & Shackleton – Pinch & Shackleton review

When this collaborative long-player between two of dubstep’s most revered producers appeared almost completely out of nowhere on Honest Jon’s (who always take a particularly low key approach to promoting their releases), it felt like the world had been treated to the fruits of the best kept secret in the genre.

Pinch & Shackleton may only be nine tracks long, but it’s a meaty album; rather than offering a collection of single tracks aimed at the dance floor, the density of the tracks offered ensures they are meant to be absorbed together in one sitting, and, as you would expect from a collaborative album from this pair, the production and trickery on display is second to none. “Jellybones” for instance, utilises Eastern percussion held precariously aloft like spinning plates and manipulated to increasing degrees of mind-warping confusion. “Levitation” weaves furious African rhythms around sample stretching weirdness, and “Monks On The Rum” is a gripping exercise in tension, contrasting cut-glass percussion with a hesitant bass. However, this isn’t to say that the tracks are mere exercises in formalism; they’re also dramatically affecting, nowhere more so than on “Rooms Within A Room”. Following a brooding string intro, it weaves tight hi-hats around a sampled choir; the transition is initially quite jarring, but by the time the track has traversed its desert of bass, and the opening intro reprises itself at the end, you feel like you’ve experienced an event.

Although at times it may feel like Shackleton’s influence looms larger than that of Pinch, particularly with regards to rhythm, their mutual appreciation of musical scales outside of the Western tuning system that has been present in the output of both of their solo careers makes this collaboration an obvious and natural and fit, both in theory and in practice. “Burning Blood” is perhaps the best example, a track heralded by its North African flute; but rather than this shared interest, it feels like the success of the album lies in each producer understanding how to balance the characteristic elements of the other. Pinch’s characteristic bass heft for example, which may become overwhelming over the course of an album, rarely dominates; when it does appear (to greatest effect on “Burning Blood” and “Rooms Within A Room”) it helps to ground the album in a way that Shackleton’s fairly light-footed basslines can’t quite manage alone.

What could easily have been one to file under “nice idea, shame about the execution” is not only one of this year’s best dubstep albums, but some of the genre’s best to emerge since the demise of Shackleton and Appleblim’s Skull Disco label in 2008. In a landscape increasingly dominated by the sounds of genre hopping post-dubstep, it comes as a timely reminder of the dark spaces dubstep once inhabited.

Scott Wilson