For all of the lip service dance music pays to Rene Pawlowitz and the material released under his Shed moniker, you’d think The Killer would be the German producer’s fifth or sixth album. It’s his third. It arrives two years after The Traveller, which felt like a minor stop-off after Pawlowitz’s debut, Shedding The Past, helped steer the last few years of 2000s Berghain minimal tech. The Traveller‘s vignetted style worked well as a collection of sonic notecards more than a fully formed document, but it was telling of a producer who seems content to hang out only when he needs to drop something off. Even Shedding The Past had an overtly uncompromising air to it, Shed’s most visible fingerprints marking up the parts of his music that interest him rather than what might interest the listener.
The Killer is no different. Even attached to a new label, Modeselektor’s 50 Weapons, after leaving Berlin’s influential Ostgut Ton, the album is unmistakably Shed. The Killer even opens with a challenging disclaimer, asserting, “If you do not hear this,” letting some rumbling sub-bass shake the walls, concluding, “you will not feel it.” It’s the perfect mission statement for an album that’s teeming with shuddering lows and disruptive Motor City synth melodies and, straight-up, has a beaten speaker cone for its cover, but it also does a nice job summing up Pawlowitz’s general outlook toward his own productions.
Yet while The Killer is very much a Shed album at its core, it finds the producer in a relatively carnivorous mood. Its surface hardly resembles Shedding The Past‘s steely, level-headed dance floor cool or The Traveller‘s brooding, contemplative wanderings. Instead, it’s feeding kick drums steroids and letting them loose to trample a landscape of abstracted caffeinated synth textures. The minimal phasing and the way the tracks seem to rubber-band to and from the constant rhythmic pulse in ovular loops is a recognizable signatory of Shed’s, but here it tosses off any sense of precision felt on previous records. The Killer is dense and unkempt. And despite its tonal coloring often tracking into the red, its mood swings are never one-note. Even on meatier tracks like “I Come By Night” or “Day After” Pawlowitz layers in some chilled, often foreboding synths to offset the overt physicality and give the throbbing textures some room to breathe.
The shifts open Shed up to more dynamic productions too, made evident on tracks like “VIOMFI/The Filler,” which shows the Pawlowitz’s creeping UK bass influence in full swing. The track is awash in dirty, rave-y arpeggios and some bruised organ hooks going toe-to-toe with a dusty 2-step. Most of The Killer‘s tracks sound like they’re stuck in the mud, but “VIOMFI/The Filler” builds, resets, and builds again. And there’s the closer, “Follow The Leader,” which skews toward an almost tropical atmosphere with its bitcrushed piano chords and jagged breakbeat drum loop. Shed certainly peaks through, but just barely.
Shed’s name carries a lot of weight. He’s a producer, like Britain’s Actress, who commands so much respect and admiration it can often drown out his music. It’s well-earned too. Like Actress, it’s hard to think of anyone even attempting to tread similar ground. The only contemporaries I can really dredge up for Shed on The Killer are a couple Perc Trax artists like Forward Strategy Group and Perc himself or 50 Weapons labelmate Cosmin TRG. The connections are superficial at best. But even with all that baggage momentarily discarded, The Killer makes a significant impact. It’s the producer’s most immediate album and tightest display to date.