2007’s Skechbook was a fine debut of classy yet dirty electronica from Londoners Dom Hoare and Andy Gillham, the duo together known as Echaskech. Their sophomore effort Shatterproof continues in similar vein.
The brooding paranoid ambience of the title track gets things under way, starting off like a ’70s Brian Eno number before the beats kick in and see it evolve into a dark and moody, almost drum and bass style workout. Piano keys fire out over the atmospheric backing and bass stabs.
The lush On Your Mind follows, twinkling and shining like a chill out track but with a bass-heavy fire in its belly. With more than a hint of the Art Of Noise‘s Moments In Love, whispered female spoken vocals float over the euphoric backing.
One thing Echaskech never shy away from is melody, and that approach makes for an engaging and genuinely uplifting experience. However, old-school bleeper Future Sex, with its Kraftwerkian vocoder, evolves little and misses the spot slightly. While its appeal does grow over time it’s still perhaps a strange choice for the album’s lead single.
There are several echoes of electronica past such as on Low Pressure, which evokes classic Black Dog and FSOL, but then underlays these influences with some bottom heavy bass-led funk which brings it bang up to date. While still melodic, this is counterbalanced with an edgy melancholy and darker undertones, before soaring electronic chords return to create a beautiful slice of Balearic warmth. Muted melodic coaster Deserted is a purely ambient outing meanwhile, oozing its way into earshot as fragile piano keys punctuate the smoky beats and stark electronic bass.
The album’s centrepiece is double-header The Calm/The Storm (clever, eh?) which kicks off in lush soothing Ulrich Schnauss-esque style before mutating into darker territory with jacking kick drums and insistent synth lines. The Calm’s icy cool chords are joined by arpeggiated synth stabs which create a little tension but do little to detract from what is essentially a soothingly harmonious experience. Any relaxation is cast away though when The Calm evolves into the urgency and paranoid edginess of The Storm. It’s an ambitious, engaging idea that is carried off with confidence and panache.
Parallels with Orbital are clear throughout Shatterproof, but there’s often more meat to many tracks that are more dancefloor-centred than much of the Hartnoll brothers’ more cerebral work. That influence can be heard on the wonky bassed Digital City but it remains just that: an influence. It is never allowed to take over to such an extent that the music becomes derivative.
The almost impossibly buoyant She Likes Colour wears its heart on its sleeve and, performed live, is guaranteed to force some shape-making from the dancing masses. Redeploy brings the album to a close and, once again, while it’s mellow and ambient in tone, there are harder, harsher beats, samples and sounds that balance this up so the music never drowns in fluff and sentiment. It’s that ability to balance the rough with the smooth that makes Shatterproof win through.
This is where Orbital, Brian Eno, The Radiophonic Workshop, Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series from the early ’90s and good old tuneful, contemporary, grimy dance music collide, and it proves to be an immersive, enjoyable journey. With a second album of melodic electronica, filthy funk and soaring goosebump raisers under their belts, it could be time for Echaskech to finally get the credit they’re due.