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Shed – The Killer review

“If you do not hear this” a distorted voice says at the start of Shed’s third album, The Killer, as low bass frequencies are deployed, “Or that – you will not feel it”. It’s a suitably tongue in cheek moment from René Pawlowitz, who, despite operating in a fundamentally dry area of dance music, seems to be increasingly keen to have some fun with what he does. It’s therefore not totally surprising that he’s ended up releasing an album on 50Weapons, a label run by a duo (Modeselektor) whose personal brand is represented by a stylised monkey face, who have always been outsiders to what the rest of Berlin’s techno scene has been doing at any given time, much like Pawlowitz himself.

The tension at the heart of this album is perhaps best reflected in its artwork, a greyscale photo of a weathered speaker cone. It’s an image that represents the deadly serious nature of the sonic intentions of the album, but its ridiculousness also suggests that The Killer is Pawlowitz having some fun. It’s totally at odds with the covers of his two albums for Ostgut Ton, Shedding The Past and The Traveller, artistically framed photographs which suggested a more contemplative experience. In reality the music of The Killer and those albums is very similar – Pawlowitz has no need to fix a formula that isn’t broken – but there’s something subtly different about this one. It’s more bombastic, it’s more ballsy – in short it’s in your face in a way the others aren’t. As an opener, “STP3/The Killer” is yet another ambient intro for a techno album, but it’s far from meek – it purrs like a cross between a V8 engine and a mountain lion.

“Silent Witness”, the first proper track features a pounding breakbeat that feels like it’s been cut apart and reassembled like a mosaic. “I Come By Night” meanwhile is characterised by its incisive, waspish drone and clockwork hi-hats, while “Day After” repeats the same feel with a tunnelling lead shocked with neon. Each one is loud, yes, but also grandiose, accompanied as they are by practically symphonic backdrops. Even the album’s more contemplative moments, such as the vaporific ambience of “Gas Up”, “Phototype” which sounds like a dying rave track with half its pieces missing, and the juddering frosted glass of “You Got The Look” all sound like they’ve been cast in a diamond hard veneer. Like most other 50Weapons releases there’s a hyperreality on display, and The Killer is undoubtedly an album of techno as pure spectacle.

However, this high concept feel is something of a double edged sword, and at times The Killer feels like techno’s equivalent of the summer blockbuster – mammoth in scale but emotionally wooden. This is most apparent at the end of album in the screaming lead and ska chords of “V10MF!/The Filler”, which sound like a bizarre techno take on reggae, and the sun drenched piano of “Follow The Leader” which practically scream sunrise on the terrace in Ibiza. But like the best summer blockbusters only the most joyless of individuals could fail to get caught up in the experience, and the cover should say it all – this isn’t an album to intellectualise, but to listen to as loud as possible in a darkened room.

Scott Wilson 


Tracklisting:

1. STP3/The Killer
2. Silent Witness
3. I Come By Night
4. Gas Up
5. Day After
6. Phototype
7. The Praetorian (Album Mix)
8. Ride On
9. You Got The Look
10. V10MF!/The Filler
11. Follow The Leader