Van Dijk named his project after a model of airplane used by the US Army for Air Force One, and in the past he's made records with names like International Airlines and Flight Control. In his music, this aviation theme is more abstract. The sound of VC-118A is cold and vast, like flying over clouds in the dead of night. No record in Van Dijk's catalogue captures this sensation better than Shift Register, an album of intricate electro that gets lost in its own world as it travels from end to end.
Shift Register is Van Dijk's most expansive work yet. The rumbling opener "Opaque" hints at its breadth. Once an electro rhythm forms from the flickering pulse, it moves through a well of reverb more suited to dub techno. If Drexciya submerged electro deep into the sea, then Van Dijk takes it to the stratosphere.
At its best, Shift Register makes electro sound elegant. On "Frax Sine," even the snare drums are wrought with melancholy. The sinuous leads of the title track recall the statelier corners of Convextion, who seems like a point of reference for VC-118A. But where the Texan producer finds profound emotion in lonely electronics, Van Dijk's work is about sound design and studio tricks.
The album has a meandering flow, which is a blessing and a curse. It's easy to listen to and rarely settles in one place for too long, but that comes at the cost of narrative. When it seems like Shift Register might come to its logical conclusion with "End Program," Van Dijk moves on to a curious coda in "Trace" and "Warp." An upbeat, IDM-influenced number that evokes its namesake, "Warp" is as shiny and beautiful as anything else on Shift Register, but it sounds out of place as the album's abrupt closer.
Aside from the occasional depressive melody, emotion almost seems like an afterthought here. Shift Register functions as a showroom for Van Dijk's sleek electronics. Listen to the way the snares wander throughout the stereo spectrum on "Turbid," or how the stunning percussive textures of "Serial Data Transmission" turn to liquid on impact. The record is full of arresting details like this, little things that reward close listening and take the music beyond average electro.