Ed Upton has been releasing electro as DMX Krew and other guises for over twenty years, but Shape Shifting Shaman, his fifteenth album, is his most cohesive. While the UK producer’s back catalogue runs the full gamut from fey vocal electro-pop – this writer’s favourites are Seedy Films and 17 Ways to Break My Heart – to the more esoteric sounds of his Collapse of the Wave Function series for Rephlex, DMX Krew has never settled in one sound long enough to make a truly benchmark release.
While his back catalogue is varied, this album sees him opting for a different approach as he coalesces a defined set of parameters and influences – including Chicago acid, Italo, Detroit electro and hints of techno – to create an album that best identifies him . Sure, there are still flashes of DMX Krew’s playful, goofy approach. On “Love Plus”, dramatic synths appear sporadically and make the relentless 303 groove sound more palatable, while “Future Light Cone” is an irresistible but slightly cheesy electro-funk number, characterised by daft keyboard solos and rubbery bass licks.
Elsewhere though, Upton shows that he has serious compositional power. “Paradise Grove” is a flawless Italo jam that weaves heart-stopping hooks with a nagging acid undercurrent. Like all the great releases from that style, it treads a fine line between cheesiness and being evocative in the spine-tingling sense. “Strange Harpsikordd” is also melodic, but on this occasion, Upton’s arrangement inhabits a grey area where breezy arps are fused with 808s and sleazy bass wiggles. “Forward March” is a continuation of this theme and this time it sees Upton lead his melodic hooks and warbling tones into a more DJ-friendly techno sphere.
Perhaps the most effective articulation of what Upton himself feels ‘represents my best’ is “Easing Into Tomorrow”, where gorgeous outer space riffs are combined with eerie synths and subtle electronic pulses. It lasts just four minutes, but provides this spell-binding album’s centre piece.
A1. Paradise Grove
A2. Strange Harpsikordd
B1. Forward March
B2. Reshaped Waves
C2. Love Plus
D1. Future Light Cone
D2. Easing Into Tomorrow
D3. Track Mood