Alec Empire - Shivers
Born out of The Hellish Vortex studios, an electronic sanctuary founded by Empire and his ex-Atari Teenage Riot cohort, Nic Endo, Shivers documents what the pair have dubbed ‘the sound of new Berlin’. Following on from last years The Golden Foretaste of Heaven, Empire’s new sound is less Digital Hardcore Recordings and, well, less Digital Hardcore Recordings. Gone are the drums that pulverise your ear drums with abandoned glee, and also missing are the streams of white-noise that previously saturated your senses to bursting point. In their place, Empire’s new vision looks to more concise drum patterns and bursts of synths rather than the razor edged walls of sound that circled his past endeavours.
Opening track ‘Control Drug’ is pure Alec Empire, albeit in slow motion. The BPM’s have been sliced and the break-beats curtailed but the sound retains hints of ferociousness – it is by far the best thing on this mini-album. The minimal synth washes of ‘Shivers’ is a testament to Empire’s involvement with the medium of film soundtracks as it pulses and sweeps over an almost spoken-word vocal. The result is a warm, but at times eerie sounding cut, that most definitely heralds a new direction in his work.
‘Baby Skull’ expands on the minimalism of ‘Shivers’ by fashioning beats and a funk guitar sample that sounds squarely out of place. The drums follow strict time signatures, which are very un-Empire, and the samples sit straight in the mix without the slightest hint of distortion. It’s Alec, Jim, but not as we know him. At times it’s possible to even doubt that this is the same man who released Miss Black America, such is the conservatism of it. You feel constantly apprehensive as you listen, waiting for the sound to explode and attack. Unfortunately, it’s an assault that never comes as a lacklustre ‘1000 Eyes’ signs off with a whimper.
Perhaps, too much shouldn’t be read into Shivers, it is, after all, a taste of Empire’s forthcoming album that is due later this year. The real problem here is that Empire’s work has always been challenging and confrontational - it has always dared you to embrace it rather than invite you inside freely. It shunned the idea of comfort within music; it celebrated unconformity in the audience it found. Shivers is none of those things, and worst of all, just about every track is instantly forgettable. If this is ‘the new sound of Berlin’, I won’t be going there in a rush.