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.