Matthew Herbert isn’t your typical electronic music artist. You cannot even compare him today’s bedroom producers producing beats on their Mac who seem to be absolutely everywhere at the moment. Herbert has been around for a couple of decades and his music is kind of like what found object sculpture is to a visual artist; he creates sounds from objects that otherwise would not be associated with music whatsoever.
The Shakes is the first album under the name Herbert that Matthew has released since his 2006 release Scale, and while that album was considered to be a dance album, this one would not. With the exception of the second track, Middle (which features a some catchy synth and brass sections), and the third, Strong, The Shakes is more atmospheric and conceptual, and less dance-able.
Herbert himself has described the album as “electronic music for the soul”. What I think he means here is that it is the kind of music that is best listened to like a session of some kind of treatment. You’d get the most out of it not by listening to a few favourite tracks in isolation, but by sitting or lying down with headphones on, and really focussing on what is going on sonically. It’s almost a hypnotic listening experience, and one that comes across as completely organic. For example, the beat of the track Safety could almost be the sound made from haphazard dripping of rain from the windowsill, and the track as a whole feels like all the natural sounds within an audible distance are coming together and only become music once they reach your ears.
The album features a vast array of well credited instrumentalists, and vocals are shared between Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne (providing a highlight on Warm with a very impressive stint in the high register) and Ade Omotayo (starting out with a strong, direct entrance on the opening track, Battle). Herbert continues his ‘found object’ instrumentation too, utilising used bullets and shells in Safety and no doubt many other random objects among the countless sonic layers that make up the album.
The Shakes is definitely an interesting listening experience. Made up of twelve tracks of varied lengths and characters, I think it’s something you need to strap into for the whole ride to appreciate more. Tracks like Smart and Bed demonstrate the beat focus, sounding erratic at first, but lulling us into a hypnotic trance over time, and this is true of the album as a whole. This isn’t a collection of songs. It’s a soundtrack that you need to invest time and focus on to get something out of, and in this I think Herbert has created something true to himself.