African vibes meet German engineering on these warm and absorbing soundscapes
On paper, this collaboration between German musicians Stefan Schneider and Sven Kacirek is a mighty appealing and intriguing prospect. It’s a real meeting of minds: Schneider is one of the founding members of seminal krautrock outfit Kreidler and electronic post-rockers To Rococo Rot, and has worked with everyone from Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Bill Wells to St Etienne and Alexander Balanescu, while in-demand percussionist/producer Kacirek’s CV includes the likes of Hauschka, Nils Frahm and Marc Ribot.
Fusing African rhythms with dark electronica, ‘Shadows Documents’ sees Schneider and Kacirek indulge their obvious love and fascination for Kenya, where they have both spent a considerable amount of time in recent years. In some ways, it’s a progression from the pair’s field recordings of the Mijikenda tribes in and around Mukunguni village on the Kenyan coast (released as ‘Mukunguni’ on Damon Albarn’s Honest Jon’s label in 2013). ‘Shadows Documents’ takes a different tack, however, drawing inspiration from the sounds of Kenya and grafting “acoustic impressions” of the country with electronic motifs and pulses. There are no direct field recordings as such (if there are, they’re inaudible), but instead a focus on the hypnotic rhythms of tribal music – where Kenya meets krautronics.
There’s a real sense of layering as the album progress and it becomes a fully immersive experience, a scintillating listen full of warmth and charm. Rooted in analogue electronica, virtuoso percussion and soporific repetition, the whole thing feels very much like a dream sequence, enveloping you in its subtle atmospheres. The opening track, ‘Doubles’, with its rumbling groove and stratum of electronic clatters and bleeps, is like a malfunctioning ECG monitor. The chirpy ‘Birds, Bell And Sticks’ has the bare bones of an imperceptible drum ‘n’ bass beat lurking beneath the surface. With the sinister, creeping rattle of ‘Low Rhythm’, you sense that something untoward is about to spring out from the undergrowth. On ‘We Will Need Each Other’, meanwhile, the background crackles like the gentle maelstrom of hundreds of scurrying insects.
Details materialise at regular intervals – the mix is littered with clicks and cuts, vaguely touching on elements of dub and even the occasional bit of improv – so there’s never a sense of vapid repetition. It all comes to a head on the final track, ‘Spiegelmotiv’, by which point Schneider and Kacirek have really found their mojo, as an oscillating backbeat locks horns with a head-nodding array of percussive buzzes and throbs. It’s absorbing stuff, as is the entire album. Despite its reliance on synthesisers and programmed beats, it’s to the duo’s credit that ‘Shadows Documents’ feels inherently organic, rather than a perfunctory electronic afterthought.