Sigha has been one of my most closely-watched producers of the past two years. I'm hard pressed to say why because he doesn't really have a distinctive sound. Since his debut on Hotflush he's skirted ambient broken beat ("Bruised"), softened deep house ("Rawww") and fluid techno ("The Politics of Dying"), the stubborn black sheep of the UK techno resurgence. The past 12 months or so have seen him tie the disparate ends of his sound together into something rather spacey, free-floating yet held in place by its staunch commitment to techno. That's the sound we get, suddenly fully-formed, on James Shaw's first full-length effort, Living With Ghosts.
Like its title would suggest, Ghosts is an unsettling album in which ineffable sounds ring through the darkened echo chamber in spectral movements. The record's focus on atmospherics builds a more enveloping sound-world than most techno albums. Think Marcel Dettmann's LP but less severe and you'll have an idea of the kind of fleetingly minute experimentation that goes on throughout the album.
Some of the work here is the heaviest Shaw has produced, reminiscent of his release on Blueprint, but at its core it's still just thumping in the deep dark murk. Nearly every track is a variation on the theme of tunneling basslines and grotty chords filtered into razor-thin beams of sound. But they never feel laborious or overwrought as the album sprints from one chemical surge to the next. "Scene Couple" flows like liquid metal, changing form effortlessly, while even the more aggressive moments like "Faith and Labour" or "Dressing for Pleasure (Ideal)" have a certain sleekness to them. Instead of hitting with a thud, each sound breaks apart to immerse the listener. To use a cliché, it's a real headphones album, man.
But as the more club-friendly moments on the album lend credence to, Sigha has always been a keen sound designer. He's never flashy about it, but the best of his tracks stare down a bottomless abyss of unending patterns and eternal reverberation. The truly ambient moments of Living With Ghosts are easily its most arresting, providing brief periods of respite amid the album's unrelenting greyscale grasp. An interlude like "Suspension" is not merely transient drones, but a landscape painted in inhuman frequencies and industrial buzz.
The 67-minute album ends with an 11-minute stretch of metallic wheeze: "Aokigahara," named after a Japanese forest notorious for both its remarkable quietude and its popularity for suicides. The association only makes it more evocative, melting the force of violence into profound sorrow and moving emotion. A strange alchemy indeed, but it's what makes Shaw's techno so gripping.
Tracklist: Sigha - Living With Ghosts01. Mirror
04. Scene Couple
07. Dressing for Pleasure (Ideal)
08. Faith and Labour
10. Dressing for Pleasure (Extract)
11. She Kills in Ecstasy