Review Summary: Gamma...Omega...Omega...Delta?
When the single "Monarch" was released in mid September 2011, the New Zealand electronic music scene was riding the wave of its own "dubstep" phase, most notably Tiki Taane’s “World of Light” album peaking at #1 on the NZ music charts. Of course by then, Shapeshifter were as close to a household name in NZ without actually being
a household name (if that makes any sense). Hot on the heels of their 4th LP “The System is a Vampire”
, the quartet decided it was perfect timing to drop a teaser smack bang in the middle of the dubstep phenomenon.
And now fast-forward to 2013, finally we have the new album "Delta" in all its glory – two years after its first single was released mind you – surely some kind of record for slowest cock-tease ever. Let's face it, two years is a long time in music as it goes through many cycles and trends. What was in fashion then (i.e dubstep) has been left behind in a trail of glitch-hop beats. So how does Shapeshifter manage to remain relevant in the year 2013?
On Delta, Shapeshifter have arrived at a crossroad in their career. On the one path, international recognition, worldwide exposure and a legion of new fans beckons. On the other path, it’s the same old cliché of playing the same old festivals - Coromandel Gold, La De Da or Rhythm 'n' Vines for New Year’s Eve in New Zealand. Naturally, it doesn’t take a genius to work out which path the band has chosen in a country where musicians still work part-time jobs to fund their music.
Delta is the sound of a band that is ready to make waves on a global
scale. Gone are the nine-minute LTJ Bukem inspired liquid tracks of 2003’s “Riddim Wise”
. Gone are the genre-mashing exploitations of 2005’s award winning “Soulstice”
. And gone are the metallic aesthetics of 2009’s “System is a Vampire”
. In their place we have the sound of a band willing to compromise. It’s the sound of a band that is willing to play it safe to reach their brand out to four corners of the globe.
This sound can be perfectly summed up by two particular tracks “In Colour” and “Diamond Trade”. The latter is a synth heavy track you’d expect from a Swedish House Mafia/Presets club mix while the former is treading dangerously close to David Guetta sop-fest territory, complete with a generic and cliched world peace video that has been done a million times before. Seriously guys? Is this the same band that released classic videos like “Electric Dream” and “Long White Cloud”? On a side note, I have heard the song “In Colour” compared to a particular pop song by a particular pop artist who I won’t name if only to save Shapeshifter’s bacon.
Luckily the band manages to escape such pitfalls elsewhere, as represented by the two lead singles “Monarch” and “Gravity”. “Monarch” as previously stated, has been left two years too late but even now it still sounds fresh and vibrant. Devin Abrams' saxophone genius comes to the fore as the band trade off layers of glorious synth and drum’n’bass to create a song that will stick in your head for weeks on end, and might I add is gloriously epic in a live setting too. “Gravity” is the crystallisation of the band’s current sound all compressed into one 4 minute track featuring more saxophone goodness.
On Delta, Shapeshifter increase the focus on atmosphere by introducing more reverb-laden guitars, a new twist on an old sound. Guitar duties are handled by Sam Trevethick, his guitar work adds a cold, sometimes distant sound to the album which makes for a more streamlined sound, but by the time the ending track comes around it sounds a little bit tired. Luckily there’s enough diversity in the guitar work to keep things fresh such as the frenzied riffing of "Arcadia" which brings to mind “Tokyo” from the “System” album. Also notable is the crystal clear production provided by long-time friend and live sound engineer Tiki Taane formerly of Salmonella Dub.
Elsewhere, “Taste of Memory” is another slow burner that features a fairly mundane performance from the band, especially from the usually reliable vocalist Paora Apera (aka P Diggsss). There’s nothing memorable about the taste of this track, as it meanders for 3 pointless minutes before seguing into “Giving Up the Ghost” which itself suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. The idea was right, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. Sadly the impact of the palm-muted metal riffing is lessened by a staccato chorus which should’ve been given freedom to explore and unleash into a barrelling chorus a la the epic “Dutchies” off "System". This is yet another sign of the band compromising musical progression for radio airplay.
The second half of the album huffs and puffs with “Stadia” and “Arcadia” but builds steam with a grain of salt on the trio of “Shadow Boxer” “Little Flame” and “Endless”. "Shadow Boxer" is a musical feast of the senses as it sucks you in with ethereal female samples, spiralling synths and smooth beats which would sound at home on fellow label mate Logistics latest album. It flows seamlessly into “Little Flame” a track which ironically sounds ice-cold with the glacial synths and chilling drum echoes. “Endless” is probably the best of the lot with a beautifully down-beat melody and some of the best song writing on the album which highlights Shapeshifter’s knack for crafting a killer melody when they so desire. The album closes with the instrumental track “141” which combines all the elements of the album and hints at a future sound which Shapeshifter are likely to build upon as they embark on a world tour in 2013.
And truth be told, it’s the live environment that will cement Shapeshifter’s place in the global scheme of things. Simply put, in their live element the band are a force to be reckoned with.
Delta is simply an excuse to push their sound further and pick up an army of new fans in the process as they board the Shapeshifter express…....
“Welcome to the ride”
Overall rating 3.3/5.