Review Summary: The killer he may be, but by no means the killer elite
Throughout his many identities and alter-egos, his numerous releases for various labels and affiliations, the chief constant for Rene Pawlowitz has always been his communication with that now infamous cross-country conduit: the much-heralded and discussed-at length axis of London at one end with Berlin at the other. A dialect perhaps best exemplified by Scuba, it's perhaps a perfect example of the cross-pollination that exists in dance music today; or, to be more specific, the European dance music scene. And while Pawlowitz has always been a major link in the chain, his approach has always been a touch more cunning, a thief in the dead of night so to speak. His casual use of London's greatest recent export, that of course being dubstep, has always been skeletal and fragmented; perhaps as a result of his distance from the source, its use has always come at arms length.
Now this give and take of course goes both ways; even a casual observer would be able to point out the influence that a scene like Berlin's with its stone-faced techno has had on the London underground. The decade-old 2step has now almost completely given way to more broken beat placement, and house music has found its rhythmic and sturdy foundations threatened by more visceral and pummeling pads and the faded hiss of snake-like synths and tape distortion. For a man like Pawlowitz, the creative titling of his last LP seemed more of an obvious choice than anything remotely whimsical; The Traveler
Pawlowitz might very well be, alternating, as he does, from tempo to tempo, genre to genre. This is of course a prospect which some might find to be exciting; others, of course, may see this as a sign of an artist lacking any real direction.
How you perceive his knack for embracing any genre (is it talent, or is he simply emulating those around him?) will ultimately decide how you absorb Pawlowitz's latest outing under his chief moniker of Shed. For The Killer
is many things; at times it's a bruising assault of the kind of techno designed to strip the paint off already decaying walls, and at others it's somewhat more reclusive, a fragile thing that seems to shiver in the cold light of day. Contrast might very well be key here, but the listening experience is somewhat akin to alternating between a hot and cold shower. And it's a difference in tone that's not always patently obvious; while Pawlowitz takes a great deal of pride in his ability to jump from a tune that feels like some discarded or forgotten rave thunder storm into something more mentally cerebral, every track still operates under a few basic fundamentals. No matter how barren a Shed tune may begin, it's an unforgiving premise, a wary preface that slowly builds in ethereal-like tension, either culminating in a bright flash of light or acting like the eye of a storm where billowing synths dash about your ears like a butterfly caught in a tornado. No matter what particular glove he may be wearing, Pawlowitz is nothing if not incredibly methodical, a professional constantly refining and reassembling his hardware.
This ability to wear the hat of so many is something of an illusion though, a stage actor's sleight of hand. The trick to pinpointing a Shed tune doesn't lie so much in attempting to figure out where his ambitions might lie on any given day, but just what aspect of his persona he's currently tapping into. Which makes The Killer
something of a bitter disappointment; not in execution but premise. His magician's glove is still made from the same fabric as one that he's employed in the past; his ability to juggle so many identities is nothing new, and Shed in 2012 is still the same multifaceted Shed we knew in 2008, and again in 2010. Which gives us an album that's all too predictable, the decision to duck and dive through varying tempo's and agreeable motifs feeling less like the thrill of the producer and more the simple ticking of boxes. An ambient interlude gives way to a stumbling and drunken broken beat, before evolving into the industrial clockwork of warehouse mayhem - this is an assembly line that's been spewing out the same product for years now.
And while it still sounds fresh it's still wearing the same threads, still talking in the same voice and moving in exactly the same way. Would a simple alteration of the playlist have produced better results though? Not likely, as there would still be that lingering sense of an artist simply going through the motions. While 2008's Shedding The Past
will stand as the obvious deterrent to this argument, there's the question as to whether Shed is simply better at making songs than he is albums. Because separately, there is a lot on offer here to be excited about; the abrasive grinding wheel of the relentless 'I Come By Night' with its machine-like fluidity that seems destined to puncture the night for any DJ bold enough to play it, its ruthless beat the snapshot of the faceless entity dancing in front of you, each hit forever cementing her silhouette in infamy. 'Day After', that takes its cues from a far loftier disposition, cutting its identity out of steppers granite; even 'You Got The Look', while based on a simple premise, works because of its ability to exist on two completely different levels - dancefloor conundrum and midnight think tank. Even something as simple as throwing a clean piano break on album closer 'Follow The Leader' is enough to hold the spartan doldrums at bay, simply because it is something just a little different, even if it's something that can only exist in the moment.
It ends the album on a somewhat lighter note, and allows us a chance to reflect back, not just on the album, but the artist in question. It's unfortunate that that pause for breath instills in us some degree of doubt, allowing us not to shower this album in the same level of attention and glory that's been handed out to Pawlowitz in the past but to wonder if maybe this traveling routine of his is getting just a little too mundane. If he is in fact The Killer
, then he's now simply a hired gun, and one can only wonder what we might benefit from his acceptance of a more permanent residence.