Living With Ghosts, the debut LP from London DJ and producer Sigha, aka James Shaw, is a record that refreshingly goes against a trend of rampant eclectism in UK electronic music. It is a record with a significantly European accent that sticks to one specific style and hones it to refined precision.
The 12 pieces of largely straight-ahead techno here are the result of years of musical exploration and experimentation by Ford. He originally played guitar in a post punk influenced band and, as a result, has an appreciation for the sonic experimentation associated with that period. He has applied all that knowledge in a succession of well-received EPs and singles released on inflectional dance music labels. He seems to have found a sympathetic home now on Hotflush, and Living With Ghosts is an album that eschews experimentation, featuring 12 tracks of hard-edged classically tinged techno.
The repetitive and metronomic juddering grind of the 4/4 techno pulse is what defines this record. It courses through almost all 12 of the tracks, making this an album for purists and connoisseurs. There is an industrial rigidity and monolithic electronic lurch to tracks like Ascension and Puritan. The sound is arid, bloodless but rather hypnotic.
While almost every track, certainly amongst the harder-edged techno tracks, sticks to a similar format there are subtle differences and inflections that keep your interest. Scene Couple is six and a half minutes long, yet constantly enthrals as its functional burr is punctuated by synth tremors and more pronounced kick drums, while every so often the beat drops out completely as the track swells and recedes. Translate is even more illuminating. Here, a baleful doomy machine-like groove proceeds with brutal effect, and the track progresses through half of its nine minutes before collapsing in on itself with a sound akin to a malfunctioning super computer. Such an arresting sound is sadly lacking on some of the other tracks here.
Another aspect of Living With Ghosts is a propensity for ambient interludes where any sense of rhythm, beat or groove is completely stripped away. These tracks provide slightly more intrigue than the severe techno that otherwise dominates. Mirror and Suspension have an airy gaseous quality that make them lovely moments of quiet reflection that evoke the album’s title; a ghostly utopian world is brought to mind.
Elsewhere, the second half of the album features more warped and fractured pieces. Delicate is all fuzzy distortion and eerie atmospherics, while closing track Aokigahara is a very unsettling piece of dark and doomy electronica. Named after a Japanese forest supposedly notorious for suicides, it is an 11-minute long ambient drone that feels like it will never end. The ultimate effect is an almost paralysing sense of mournful despair.
Living With Ghosts is an album that demands intense focus and attention. The extremely long running time of over an hour will be off-putting to those seeking a quick dance floor fix, but anyone with such desires is not part of the audience Shaw appears to be aiming at. Instead, his cerebral and calculated approach to a classic sound, founded on his UK roots and experience based in techno’s contemporary rising heartland of Berlin, makes Living With Ghosts an album that anyone with an interest in intelligent contemporary electronic music would savour.