Rene Pawlowitz returns with his third album under his Shed moniker, this time on Modeselektor‘s 50Weapons imprint following two well received sets for Ostgut Ton. “The Killer” contains no real surprises, comprising another solid batch of gritty tech permeated with slightly more experimental moments. Opener ‘STP3/The Killer’ is a straightforward floating ambient intro before ‘Silent Witness’ gets down to the more serious business with a militant half-step lurching around a lo-fi spoken sample, overlaid with orchestral pads. ‘I Come By Night’ takes things up another notch with its brooding square wave before the flow of the album is slightly interrupted by ‘Gas Up’, another short ambient interlude. It’s hissy pads are pleasant enough but it doesn’t add anything particularly vital, coming just as things were just starting to get interesting.
‘Day After’ with its refrain of ‘thoughts running through my head’ returns to the stomping ground though, and after an initial visitation from the sort of ravey signal so common on Modeselekor-related releases (is this a contractual obligation with them?!) the fear that we might be descending into the formulaic is cast aside by the introduction of an epically melancholic synth that brings to mind the work of Vatican Shadow – an excellent track and a real highlight. ‘Phototype’ is archetypal Shed, rickety percussion work simply spliced with an ancient breakbeat and a simple melody, whilst the album version of recent single ‘The Praetorian’ dispenses with its simple beat altogether and renders it as another slightly questionable distraction from the main ingredients.
‘Ride On’ oscillates back toward the big-synth-meets-half-step routine, this time utilising a tightly clipped female vocal, ‘You Got The Look’ shimmers away to itself, before ‘V10MF!/The Filler’ signals its arrival with a sample of a motorbike engine roaring into life. Housey organs ride a distorted arpeggio and skipping 2-step rhythm that really emphasises a European take on a quintessentially British sound. It’s sparser, more mechanistic and sounds somewhat detached. Closing track ‘Follow The Leader’ is the lushest number on show; a simple but soulful detuned piano over deep swathes of synth underpinned with a tidal ebb of sub-aquatic kick drums before a rolling break brings a rare sense of funk. This track could rate among Shed’s finest but naggingly feels incomplete, partly due to weighing in at just over four minutes and the somewhat abrupt ending.
I can’t help but wonder if we are learning anything new about the artist from this album? Whilst rather more focused than ‘The Traveller’, which often felt a little like a collection of sketches, it’s lacking some of the impact brought by tracks such as ‘Keep Time’ and ‘My R-Class’. Ultimately it also lacks the a lot of the depth of ‘Shedding The Past’ – there’s certainly nothing to compare with ‘Estrange‘ (still his finest moment for me). It’s interesting that whilst Pawlowitz is probably best known for his work as Shed, it seems to me that his finest moments seem to be reserved for his obscure white label alter-ego’s such as EQD, Wax, WK7 and so forth. Perhaps with these albums he’s aiming for more of a home listening experience but it does feel like he’s coming up a little short of the mark in that regard – for one thing, there’s too much dancefloor material for it to work as a straight-up strictly headphones listen. Whilst the standard of the work is consistently high, the flow just doesn’t seem quite right and ultimately thwarts the aim of sounding like a cohesive album. I still harbour a strong suspicion that he has a really magical album in him and that he’s still feeling his way around to it but only time will tell what further use Pawlowitz will make of the sonic tools in his Shed.