Mike Shannon: Memory Tree

A dramatic left turn from the “electronic-lounge” style Shannon explored on his only partially-successful 2006 ~scape outing Possible Conclusions To Stories That Never End, Memory Tree finds Shannon relocating to Plus 8 for a seventy-eight-minute collection of high-grade club-oriented techno (sixty-five sans two digital-only cuts). Whereas the ensemble-oriented ~scape release included contributions from vocalist Anaïs and drummer Tim Stokes-Rees (among others), Memory Tree finds the Cynosure and Revolver labels head working intensively alone in his Berlin lab. His third full-length is a fabulous headphones listen and, throughout the richly textured set, Shannon builds up incredibly dense masses of washes, intricate synth patterns, and funky beats in long workouts that unspool leisurely for six to nine minutes at a time.

“Beyond Incubation” opens the album promisingly with flickering noise that slowly gives way to a sultry, full-bodied skip and owl-like chords that gradually grow in volume to pierce the atmospheric haze. The material heats up with “Mercury Mile” wherein squelchy synths writhe as if trying to wrest free from a straitjacket while a bubbly bass animates the slow-building grove. The snare's a mere crack but the forward charge is relentless, especially when the tune settles into lockstep position halfway through. “Wolf Module” find Shannon in full-on Plus8 mode with a driving plunge into stripped-down techno spiked with a subtle dash of acid. Double-time hi-hats and a huge growling theme propel the track so forcefully it feels primed for lift-off. “Enero” starts out with a skipping techno pulse besieged by a battering ram of percussive noise before morphing into an exercise in clubby techno-funk augmented by warm, softly rising tones.

The ten-minute “Love Fry” pushes Shannon's sound to contrasting extremes, first with synth lines that grow ever more distorted and menacing and then with a mid-song episode of Rhodes-fueled soul-jazz that's like Jeckyll to the other's Hyde. Shannon masterfully fuses the two strands into one for the charge home as piano chords keep the ship aright while synth noises spatter against its sides. Compared to the preceding tracks, “Uno Para el Sol” is restrained yet still surges determinedly, with it even dipping its toes into deep house, and the soul-jazz returns during a silken, Rhodes-heavy passage. If anything, it's the cut closest in spirit and style to Possible Conclusions To Stories That Never End, though the jazzy ride cymbal patterns Shannon sprinkles over the squiggly percolations of “Regalos de Pandora” makes it an equally viable candidate.

There's not a weak track in the bunch (including the bonus cuts “La Tentation,” a swinging sampling of sleek techno-funk, and “Japanese Censorship,” a wiry funk-house throbber) but the Memory Tree tracks that bear the most distinctive stamp are the ones where Shannon merges the soulful jazz-inflected vibe of the ~scape release with the sleek thrust of clubby techno. “Love Fry,” “Uno Para el Sol,” and “Regalos de Pandora” point a way forward that Shannon might be wise to pursue, given that it will enable him to even more strongly establish a unique identity within a genre detractors often dismiss as faceless.

September 2008