SLACKER: Start A New Life (GodLike & Electric)


Posted on Mar 5th 2010 11:40 pm

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Slacker: Start A New Life

Start A New Life
GodLike & Electric 2010
11 Tracks. 51mins49secs

Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

We’ve now reached the point that should make anyone over the age of twenty one feel old – the nineties are being cannibalized for nostalgic purposes. Tape labels, Orbital and Pavement reuniting; these a but a few of the signs that that decade is are ancient history now, enough to be retro, and cherished as a memory of how good things were way back when.

Clearly, Shem McCauley is one such person. The story behind his comeback album under the Slacker moniker, Start A New Life, even reads like something from the nineties: tired of his shallow surroundings as a successful progressive house DJ (also producing as Head Honcho, and as part of the Ramp project with Simon Rogers), it was time for a soul-cleansing move to Thailand, where McCauley still resides and (no joke) teaches yoga. It sounds like what could easily be the workings of a new age disaster, but it’s to McCauley’s credit that New Life is a refreshing blast of chill-out music, unafraid to embrace a wide emotional range.

Chill-out albums didn’t die in the 2000s; the popular ones just lost all their darkness and edge, and became snooze-worthy festivals of saccharine exoticism. New Life, conversely, is thrilling as a decidedly earthbound record of slow beats. Little tracklets like I Have No Memory and A Million Dreams focus on confusion and fear as an inescapable emotion for the real daydreamers. When I Was A Child further dwells on nostalgia, as a sampled interviewee recounts his fuzzy childhood memories. The presentation of these broken bits of the hazy past is more revelation than pacification, however – we live our childhoods, and then lose many of the memories, left only with vague approximations of our formative years on this earth.

New Life is compellingly emotional – there are sections that get the listener choked up, sections that bring a smile to one’s face, and plenty of feelings in between. It’s an album possessed of the big-picture observer feeling that permeates watching a movie, likely a residual effect of McCauley having written it on his laptop in the middle of a shopping mall. This location-based track making may further be the reason for the odd passiveness that permeates New Life. The title track finds its sampled protagonist in a surprisingly peaceful post-traumatic appreciation mode – “it’s amazing that I came out of it but, now, I feel that, with all that experience, I’m gonna start a new life.”

Musically, New Life employs the expected tropes for a chill-out record – laidback hip-hop lite beats, flittingly beautiful piano melodies, gentle synth strings, sampled speech, and jazzy percussion are all where they need to be. McCauley inserts musical homage to nineties chill-out albums via samples, which include a bit off Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II (on A Million Dreams), or the speech sample from The Orb’s Outlands, which appears prominently on single Hymn To Her. The latter track nods further to 2000s chill-out records, with a stretched double bass that would fit comfortably on any Ninja Tune release.

Start A New Life, looks to the sounds of the past, but it’s more a work of memory than of nostalgia. Childhood remembrances are a frequent theme, and the distant tunnels from which vocal and speech samples tend to emerge feel indefinable, not marketable. Prone to deep thought, McCauley is nevertheless clearly very content with himself. Rare as it may be, he’s a more fascinating artist for it.


Slacker (MySpace) | GodLike & Electric
Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

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