Label: Gizeh Records
It’s safe to say that there’s plenty of music I cover here that is, in some way, heavy. Whether it’s of a musical or emotional nature, heaviness (and, arguably, underground obscurity) is the key theme running through most of my reviews. Manchester duo Shield Patterns aren’t heavy in a musical sense. Instead, Mirror Breathing fits in with what I cover because of its undeniable emotional heaviness. The music may be graceful and almost ethereal, possessed of a lightness that sonically puts it at odds with most other records I review; but the impact it has is the equal of practically anything else you might care to name.
The songs on Mirror Breathing are held together by the most fragile of bones. Rhythms are minimal, the barest heartbeat necessary to propel the tracks along. Drones and shimmering sounds provide the backdrop, with restrained-yet-bright melodies rising up at key points, adding to the texture and geography of the soundscapes created. Arguably the most notable feature of Shield Patterns sound is Claire Brentnall’s vocals, fragile yet strong, a distant human element in an otherwise alien environment. There is heartbreak here, and love, and sorrow, and so much life held in such sparse elements that it is all the more effective and powerful for how carefully it is transmitted. And that’s to say nothing of the lyrics, those scraps of poetry that piece together not so much a narrative but a series of images, telling their story in fragments, the gaps left to the listener to fill in themselves; a technique I’m a big fan of. Clever, touching, and oh-so effective.
In some ways, the black and white artwork is a good reflection of the sound of Shield Patterns. There is light here, and whilst no element could accurately be described as vibrant, there is nonetheless a real sense of life in all its imperfect wonder. Yet that would count for nothing if not for the darker elements, to give proper contrast and balance. Tracks such as “On Needing”, with its drone pulse and steady breathing, are especially dark and unsettling, as is “Balance And Scatter”, which is almost belligerent in its almost free-jazz nature. These are the times when the darkness comes to the surface, though; it is an element that is forever present however, always under the surface in one form or another, even on more delicate tracks such as the piano-led “Anymore”. This track in particular is one of my favourites, making me think of both Grouper and the instrumental tracks on the second disc of Nine Inch Nails’ And All That Could Have Been. As those are two of my favourite artists, that’s high praise indeed, and Shield Patterns are more than deserving of it.
I’ll admit, there is a part of me that worries that, by trying to analyse Mirror Breathing, I am perhaps doing it an injustice, if not missing the point entirely. As intelligent and well-crafted as it undoubtedly is – a lot of thought has clearly gone in to these songs – it is an album that feels best appreciated when you let go and simply allow it to carry you along. It is an album for star-gazing, for sleepless nights, for confessions and promises, whether alone or in intimate company. It is so disarmingly beautiful and honest that I struggle to find a single flaw with it, and a single listen inevitably ends up with me spending the rest of the night with it on repeat. Mirror Breathing – and, by extension, Shield Patterns – is something very, very special, and deserves to be both treasured, and recognised for the triumph that it is.
Mirror Breathing is due for release on 2nd September 2016. It can be pre-ordered at the Gizeh Records webstore on CD, vinyl, and digital versions.