Konrad Black “The Scorched Earth” EP review

It’s been a decade since Todd Shillington aka Konrad Black’s last release came out- discounting 2012’s collaboration with Art Department, which seems a near eternity in a scene where transience and flux predominates. Intentional hyperbole aside, with the incredible volume of music released on a daily basis and the instantaneous access to it, both new and old, offered by the internet, it’s all too easy to get lost attempting to navigate through the constantly expanding sprawl of data. Hybrids of previous styles emerge in a matter of months, some developing into fully fledged scenes in their own right ( the genre straddling ‘post dubstep’ landscape in England) others disappearing shortly after emerging (see ‘Witch-house’). As it’s all too easy to fall down musical rabbit holes where quantity seems to take precedence over quality, it’s a welcome contrast to follow a musician with a comparatively small discography. This not being the place for a discussion of the internet let’s bring the narrative back onto this release: Tales of the Scorched Earth on DeWalta’s Meander.

So what does it sound like? In a word, great. Perhaps acknowledging the distance between his last record, Konrad Black reintroduces himself almost unassumingly on opener Silene Dust; a gently flickering drone and a mist of that ineffable, quietly unsettling FX- common to minimal minded House & Techno- are all we’re greeted with. This is of course is merely introductory; Shillington was never one to churn out generic minimal techno records. And sure enough, soon after the record starts, a searing synth pulse cuts through the fog bringing a jungle recalling break and swaggering bassline with it. Admittedly, with the current wave of rave revivalism in electronic music, it isn’t particularly surprising to hear these elements in a techno record, but what is remarkable, is how well the retro-leaning rhythm section compliments the contemporary sound design. Being more specific, the two main strands of the track, the percussive section & synthetic sound design, play out a delayed call & response where the quietly confident bassline finds it’s eventual counterpart in a restless synth pattern. The juxtaposition of the earthiness and certainty of the early rhythm section, against the glassiness of the latter makes for a particularly interesting and enjoyable listen; it’s a testament to Shillington’s sleight of hand that he’s able to work these two elements into something greater than its component parts.

He brings the first side to a close with the brief drone piece Chelyabinsk Afterglow; the suspended chord, timbral washes and radio interference acting as an appropriate bookend to the record’s cloudy beginning. On the flipside is the brilliantly titled Sycho Te Alyn, a masterclass in paranoid tension and release, that culminates with the gradual unfurling of a snarling bassline and slinky percussion. Like on Silene Dust, Shillington proves himself to be highly adept at withholding the ‘dance’ element from the track without meandering too far into abstraction, so when the track is eventually given its drive, it’s made all the more potent for doing so. On the whole, both Silene Dust and Sycho Te Alyn are pretty versatile traks; both could be reasonably be played to break up the relentless four-to floor pulse or act as a segueway into darker territories. More importantly though, this release marks a fantastic return for the Konrad Black alias ,and ranks among his best work-if not his best. Here’s hoping he won’t leave it quit as long between releases.

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