Shield Patterns - Violet EP
In which the Manchester-based duo score deep and unforgiving lines of enquiry into the blueprint of 2014's exceptional Contour Lines. Claire Brentnall (classical leanings, a voice that swallows the sky) and Richard Knox (beats, atmosphere, studio black magic) follow their magnetic debut with a sixth gear, pedal-flooring ride down a back road sign-posted 'No fucking entry'. Out goes the dark balladry that anchored much of the album's wilder roamings; in comes a more deeply expressionistic re-tooling of their (mighty) song craft.
The uninitiated would be forgiven for thinking the Shield Patterns songbook little more than a mood board of haunted abstractions, chill explorations in sound; but then again they might be sent away with a clip round the ear and told to listen again. And again. Shield Patterns' grand plans are not designed for those seeking the quick thrill. Violet - thrillingly – tests your resolve to the core. 'Splinter' is muted and spare, built around Brentnall's piano and a minor chord descending figure that reverberates off the walls. "Every day I'm free to make the same mistakes," she sings, but aside from the odd word or phrase that makes it through, here's stark reminder that she's a singer for a reason. If meaning (mine, yours, that second something that the songs become once they're ours) is your thing, don’t waste time trying to understand. A lyric sheet never took anyone inside a song. Make your own way.
'Silver' is darker still - skeletal beats and a brooding unease. It's almost as if the band's avowed love for FKA Twigs has seen Shield Patterns form their own angular and uncompromising take on r 'n' b: a shattering collision of beats and lo-fi backing - rhythm and bruise. Here's where the mildly curious might take flight, as a remorseless, crunching coda marries backwards loops and brutal, industrial beats. 'Age of Ice' is Bat for Lashes' 'Moon and Moon' taken to the outer limits. Suddenly, Violet's thematic intent (dislocation; loss; that inner tumult of thought versus action and the pitiless, unforgiving gulf between your world and the – huh - 'real' world) surfaces. 'Monument' nails this collection's distinct and enveloping identity - it's a new and epic high, and its closing movement, where Brentnall's clarinet lassoes your senses, is a warm and sensual counterpoint to the underlying sense of desolation. As with all EPs that matter, that justifiably claim a unique and separate identity, Violet is studiously programmed (in both senses of the word): these four songs could exist only here.
Their assemblage of keys, whispered vocals, a whirring bed of snap-pulses – all of these standard issue components might have, in less savvy hands, built little more than a background mood piece. But with Violet, Shield Patterns demonstrate ambition and hunger at odds with the deliberate, (seemingly) fragile nature of their music. In broadening their palette, and extending their reach, they extend their enigma. "We went up high," breathes Brentnall at one point. And how. They're up their somewhere. Spread your wings. Join them.
Band photograph by Alex Bell