Switched On – Jas Shaw: Sollbruchstelle 1-3 (Delicacies)


reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The conditions brought on by the pandemic in the last year have shifted the goalposts for many composers. Working under lockdown has changed perspectives, often through necessity – and few people have experienced this more than Jas Shaw. A highly productive composer and producer, Shaw was confined to base by the risk of catching Covid and an operation on his cell disorder AL amyloidosis.

Typically his response to spending so much time in one room was a productive one, an album comprising three EPs of luminous ambience, sitting squarely between acoustic and electronic. He chose the title Sollbruchstelle (the German for ‘breaking point’) himself, interpreting that as a mixture of sadness and hope – but reflecting the difficulty he and many others have had to overcome in the last year.

What’s the music like?

Easy to listen to, but with emotive depth. Shaw’s resilience is immediately clear in the surefooted confidence of his writing, and everything unfolds at a natural pace, as instinctive for him as breathing it would seem.

The first EP begins with a really lovely piece of music, Hålla tummarna – a Swedish phrase meaning ‘to hold one’s thumbs’, to wish someone luck. In this case there are single, harp-like lines tracing shapes in the sky, with reassuring harmonies around. It turns into a she, meanwhile, occupies a lower part of the spectrum, with slow moving ambience in sonorous tones, like the slowed-down pealing of bells.

Volume 2 sharpens the tones, and The revenge of noise on harmony and I wig on a cone have serrated edges, the first compressing into a woolly pile at the end. The friendly bleeps of Felt compute, might delete contrast with this, as does the thick timbres of Absent and incorrect, with slowly moving chords that could describe the motion of an iceberg.

Each of the volumes have seven tracks, and the third begins with the absentminded thoughts of Rhyme undisturbed and the appealing minimalism of Snacks of carelessness, with its mottled piano sound. Shaw is always on the move in this section, and the brief Norwegian Blue and more substantial Double stop generate surprising energy, the latter twinkling at the edges. Finally Made not to fade gives some welcome solace, a reassurance surely for Shaw himself.

The three EPs that make up the full Sollbruchstelle album, work equally well as standalone units or as part of an 80-minute whole. Shaw used a piece of artwork by Leafcutter John for each, representing the music – as you can see on this page.


Does it all work?

Yes. Because of Shaw’s natural approach, the music here has plenty of room, and doesn’t try to do too much – but its understated impact is lasting. Shaw has a natural way with minimal loops without ever sounding contrived, and the continual changes of colour, light and shade form vivid patterns in the listener’s eye.


Is it recommended?

Enthusiastically. If you’ve heard Shaw in his more energetic guise as half of Simian Mobile Disco, the electronic project with James Ford which is currently on hold, you will warm to this softer side of his musical personality – which is wholly convincing, albeit in much more ambient clothing. Shaw makes slowly evolving gems that dance in the half light.




Switched on – Jas Shaw: Exquisite Cops (Delicacies)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

On the face of it, Exquisite Cops is a rare solo outing for Jas Shaw. One half of Simian Mobile Disco and a highly respected producer in his own right, Shaw is clearly capable of holding his own in a crowded field.

That, however, is only a small part of the story. Exquisite Cops has emerged from a period where Shaw has had to deal with a rare bone marrow disorder. It was diagnosed just after Murmurations, the last SMD album featuring the Deep Throat Choir, had been completed, and it meant their planned tour had to be ditched.

However Shaw is clearly one of those creative spirits who likes to respond to such a setback on the front foot, and while receiving chemotherapy he spent hours in the studio. Not only did he complete an album with Gold Panda as Selling, he made more than 20 solo recordings, which he has been releasing as singles and releasing as part of the Exquisite Cops project. This selection – a double album’s worth – is a self-picked ‘best of’.

What’s the music like?

Typically energetic, but varied too – Shaw clearly knows his techno, and as these eight tracks unfold we get a nice line in quick, pumping beats or softer material that nods across the Atlantic in the direction of Detroit.

Non-Caring Fabulousness starts the album almost lost in thought, with minimal treble but nicely paced, slightly darker material. Merely Bathing comes right out of that shell, with acidic bleeps betraying Shaw’s membership of Simian Mobile Disco.

Having heard two sides of Shaw’s solo personality, he cunningly blends them in the lush textures of Lecturing Birds On How To Fly, with upfront beats and woozy treble sounds that work across the stereo picture like a murmuration of starlings. This approach also works well for I Dream Of Meanie, Shaw adding a nice layer of white noise at the top to capture a bright, warm sound. Half way through a quasi-orchestral sound builds from the middle, suggesting Shaw might be familiar with Holst’s The Planets, and particularly the remoteness of Saturn.

Leaner textures are in play for Freedom For The Pike, which comes out fighting, heavy on the kick drum, and also the nippy Repeat Until There Is No More Other, a quick-fire track that recalls Plastikman.

The closing duo are both brilliant. Popes of Dischord is essentially a distorted set of bells over an energetic mid-range, building steadily over nine and a half minutes. It sounds a lot better than that in the flesh, and could easily work as a Chemical Brothers track. Finally A Bird With No Feet circles the listener’s head, working up a trance with its oscillating riff in a thrilling drive to the finish.

Does it all work?

Yes. Shaw’s ability to get even the stoniest cynic on the dancefloor with his music is well noted, whether in Simian Mobile Disco or in his own production work. Exquisite Cops is no different, and feels very natural – as though he has edited very little on the route from initial inspiration to finished club track.

This is an impressive achievement given that the gestation period for some of these tracks was months rather than hours. It so happens that Shaw has a great ear for spotting the compatibility of his ideas and blending them together.

Is it recommended?

Yes, strongly. The whole Exquisite Cops project is proof positive that good things can come out of awful situations, and that music is often the way to go for cathartic energy. When you listen to this it’s worth considering Shaw’s situation, and realising for a bit – in between dance steps – just how positive things really can be.

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