James Shinra – Surface EP

4 out of 5

Label: Analogical Force

Produced by: James Clarke

This one really snuck up on me.

By and large, Analogical Force artists love their glitchy 90s Rephlex stuff, or bring in major influence from scene contemporaries of that time. This occasionally produces some derivative stuff, by there’s a large chunk of the label that either reinterprets it wholly uniquely, or steps it all forward in a way that evolves the sound.

While James Shinra has plenty of releases not on AF, this is my first exposure to their work, and while I’m an electronica idiot, meaning my following statements are likely false by most definitions, I’m hearing an influence I haven’t sensed as strongly on the label: Detroit techno; futurism. And then Shinra maps this to the lattermost category above: bringing that input into a new realm.

The majority of the four tracks on Surface are chill, and probably lean more towards a club beat than a funky futuristic one, but there’s something about Shinra’s slick approach to momentum – starting with standard beats, slowly urging things toward more impulsive and intense sounds – that reminds me of Drexciya and the like, alongside the kind of world-building I feel when listening to this: sleek environments; rain-spattered streets. A sense of peace overwhelms, but with an observative edge – not wandering around a city aimlessly, but doing so with purpose, watching the people and world around you.

Opener Miluv kicks off with a kind of cutely misleading dancefloor vibe that Shinra maintains, but changes the feeling of by layering in more synths and effects, until the track winds up in a very different place, emotionally, from where we started. This thread is picked up by the excellent Circular, and mirrored in the closing title track; these two songs most match the vibe I’ve described above. The only thing that slightly disrupts this spell is Ekko, which splits its seven minutes between something closer to early Aphex ambient, and then the building nature of the opener. So there’s mirroring there as well, but instead of it sounding like a progression, it feels more like Shinra has to “rescue” the first half of the track, which leans a bit toward been-there-done-that, and that transitions takes some work. It also ends up in a great place, though.