Album Review: Booka Shade – ‘Cut The Strings’
German electronica duo Booka Shade are back to show off their trademark minimalism with Cut The Strings, the latest release out of Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier.
While it’s already clear that Booka Shade are masters in their field, and Cut The Strings tries to include new elements to keep things interesting, it has a hard time breaking out of the limitations of the trance genre and simply adds to what Booka Shade have already perfected in previous releases.
The album opener, ‘Easy Drifter’, is the perfect summary for the record’s mood and progression – dark, spacey swells of synth riffs that build to a subtle, washed out drum beat. It occasionally adds another high pitched melody, and then brings it all back down to vary the intensity over the song. It’s a calm to-and-fro track in almost every aspect of its production.
However, this description could easily be used to describe most of the songs on the album, as similar sounds across tracks leads them to blend into one. The positive aspect of this is that the album feels cohesive and compels the listener to listen to the whole release, not just the hit singles they might have heard on the radio. The negative aspect is it’s hard to ascertain remarkable moments from the album, which makes it overall hard to digest, at first.
The album’s strength is in the unique atmosphere it is able to create. Overall, it’s quite brooding with plenty of dissonant undercurrents. Tracks like ‘Night Surfing’ and ‘Black Crystal’ use dark synths and sweeping builds to create a menacing yet calm energy. This actually creates a weirdly hypnotic strand of trip-hop melancholia that is quite unique to Booka Shade, who have refined their sound in previous efforts.
The production of the album is also a highlight – the sounds all feel satisfying and incredibly polished, with pulsing kicks laying the foundation for experimental swells to roll over. The album is full of subtle production techniques that prove that Merziger and Kammermeier are pros.
Each song takes its time, slowly evolving and adding layers to create more intricate moments. There are many subtle poly-rhythms and intricacies, perhaps best highlighted on ‘Lost’, which uses a tangle of moody layers, vocals, textures and loops to grow to an uplifting peak, only to strip it back to its core beat by the end of the song.
But again, as the songs are deceptively stripped back and create a similar atmosphere, the album can feel repetitive and homogenous. Vocals on tracks like ‘Aftermath’, ‘Lost’ and title track ‘Cut The Strings’ are a welcome reprieve that help break the repetition. ‘Kolibri’ also steps up the pace of the album, being the most danceable track, which could easily fill a club with the right atmosphere.
After so many years in the game, Booka Shade have clearly found a formula of what works best for them. While more refined than their previous efforts, Cut The Strings does little to stand out from other albums or add anything particularly remarkable to the genre. That’s not to say it’s a bad album, but it struggles to escape the trappings of minimalist electronica to make anything particularly new.
The nature of minimalist electronica requires you to approach listening to it differently to most other genres – to pay attention to the space between sounds, to admire the deliberately stripped back nature, to slink into the background and let everything wash over you. For fans of this strand of relaxed chill-step, this is definitely an album to check out, polishing an already established and popular sound, even if it’s not pushing any boundaries.