In the past few years, the inevitable has happened: Pawlowitz's rate of output slowed, and the hits haven't hit quite as hard. No doubt, inspiration comes and goes, a reality from which even Pawlowitz, perhaps the best techno artist of the last decade, is not immune. An ebb now doesn't mean a flow won't come later. But, while not without its moments, The Final Experiment is an ebb indeed.
A few years ago I praised Shed's second album, The Traveller, for always staying on the move, switching moods and styles just when the listener was getting the hang of things. The opposite could be said of The Final Experiment, which chooses one style—breaky, ambient techno—and sticks with it. On each of Shed's past albums, there have been one or two of these dreamy breakbeat tracks, but on The Final Experiment, that's all there is, and none are as good as their predecessors. The wilting synths on "Razor Control" pale in comparison to those on 2008's "ITHAW." The ambient closer, "System Azac," has nothing on the glistening "Ostrich-Mountain-Square." Heard from front to back, these tracks have a most unShed-like effect: tedium.
As Pawlowitz recently told Joe Muggs, '90s chill-out and IDM have always been key influences, but at times The Final Experiment feels like a faded Xerox of those sounds rather than a modern update of them. In both name and style, "Xtra" recalls one of the seminal electronic LPs, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which began with the transcendent "Xtal." But where that album, like so many others of its era, was brought to life by a sense of mystery and emotion, The Final Experiment feels flat. Its atmospheres are untransportive, and its euphoria and melancholy feel forced.
The rhythms are the best part of the record. As usual for Pawlowitz, they are totally unconventional but always groovy and intuitive, stripped down and charged with buoyancy. Even here, though, things are less dynamic than usual, with every track presenting some variation on a fluttery stepping beat. By the end, you're dying for a curveball like "That Beats Everything!" or "Leave Things."
The name Shed can be taken as a kind of mission statement: to cast off all that's come before and forge ahead into the future. Since the mid-2000s, Pawlowitz has made amazing records by looking to old music as inspiration for something consummately new. His anti-nostalgia was as clear in his sound as it was in the spoken word piece "Archived Document," from Shedding The Past, which stated it outright. This time, though, he's too closely echoing what's come before, not least in his own discography.