The prevalence of grime, UK garage and dubstep is one of the few music trends that the 2010s can call almost entirely their own. Sure, all of them have roots in the early electronic music experimentations of the ’90s and to some extent the ’00s, but it’s the current decade where these underground trends have coalesced in the immensely successful Untrue by Burial, the modern plunderphonics of Far Side Virtual by James Ferraro, and the minimalist hip-hop/techno breakouts of Actress’ catalogue.
So it should come to little surprise that London musician Moiré would release his debut full-length on both Ninja Tune and Darren Cunningham’s Werkdiscs: the former an established label in all things dance and electronic; the latter, a relative newcomer with a signature sheen. The lengthy eight tracks on Shelter are your not-so-standard grimey and droney soundscapes that are topically reserved, yet emotion bubbles just beneath the surface.
Just take a look at Infinity Shadows, a mid-album highlight. Chopped and screwed vocal samples repeat over a moderate bpm that’s as ready for an all-nighter work binge as it is a breakdancing floor. Hi-hat percussive leads pass the baton to a pounding (but not oppressive) bass several times within a four-and-a-half minute run times. No Gravity starts off with a bit of Burial-esque scampering polyrhythmicity before delving into a pseudo-jungle/DnB bridge that’s as close to a breakdown as minimalist techno dares to get.
End-album highlight Rings features Charlie Tappin, also known as Excavate, on vocals – but that might push the boundaries of exactly how little a guest artist can actually be present on a song before they’re not really a feature at all. That being said, the scant vocalisations are a nice addition to the grimey industrial feel of the song, like with Stave’s full-length Reform from late last year. It’s prime night-time music, especially when followed by Mr Figure, whose steady synth hits make for a nice backbeat to a late drive home as street lights dance on the windscreen.
The short tracklisting but long track lengths work to Shelter’s advantage – minimalist techno and beatmaking is all about building and exploring the subtleties that shorter lengths rarely permit. It’s refreshing that Moiré gives his tracks the time they need to breathe, as on the commendable Elite / Hands On. The first full minute is Moiré doing the now-classic addition and subtraction of elements, never reaching a climax but never imparting the need to go any further.
However, this technique also invites staleness when not pulled off, which is unfortunately the case with album opener Attitude. It straddles the line between the dank moodiness that characterizes the rest of the album and the need to let loose and break down. It creates a struggle between two disparate moods that isn’t resolved at the end of its six-minute length, which makes it the second longest track on the album. Eliminating the excess percussion would have allowed the droney background noise to take the forefront, but it’s just plain distracting and masks the glittering synths underneath. Likewise, without an actual break in some part of the music, the constancy of the track is exhausting and makes for a difficult venture for the rest of the album. Shelter is much more enjoyable when Attitude is entirely skipped and begun on the second track, the dubbed-down and cold Dali House.
Stars has a similar problem, having a similar DnB aesthetic as No Gravity, but with a harder percussion that seems unfit. It breaks at about the four minute mark into a more cohesive affair and trade-off between synths, and it’s by far a more pleasurable listen than Attitude. But, this is not a make-or-break issue, just a flaw in pacing. Shelter debuts with Moiré finding his style, and there’s no reason to think such rhythmic issues won’t be dealt with upon his next release. Shelter has plenty of moments of understated genius, and it’s fun to watch a producer find what works for him or her as their game just begins.