Shining’s One One One: Reviewed

This may be the most difficult album I’m going to review this year. Let’s put this album in context. Shining has had quite a diverse career. They started as a free jazz group, then somehow had made a full transition to a totally new genre of music when they got to their last album Blackjazz.

That album has to be one of the most original and intense artistic works I’ve encountered. I absolutely love it. It is so wild. It takes some really hardcore elements, some industrial, metal, and electronica and smashes it wonderfully with free jazz solos. It is completely unhinged in its absolute chaos. Yet it stays together. With how great this style of music is I’m surprised at the lack of copycats. Heck. I’m up for putting together a band to play blackjazz if anyone’s up for it.

Enter One One One. Here’s what makes this so hard to review. Where do you go after successfully inventing a new genre of music and blowing the world away with it? For me, I could care less if they “moved forward” or whatever we’re supposed to look for when reviewing a band. I wouldn’t blame them if they just made a repeat of Blackjazz. I would have praised it.

As a first impression I was kind of disappointed. Actually, I was confused that I had accidentally downloaded the new Nine Inch Nails album. I like NIN, but strange. Then I realized it was actually Shining, but their sound had morphed much more to the industrial end and away from the jazziness. A few of the old elements still existed, but they were rare.

In fact, the first several times I listened to this thing all I could keep thinking is “less.” It wasn’t that different than Blackjazz. I mean the obsession with yelling numbers even still existed (this time on two tracks we get a count to 8 and a count to 10!). “My Dying Drive” is essentially a remake of “Fisheye.” But it was just less. Less wildness. Less chaos. Less unhinged. Less jazz. Less intense. Less technical. Similar, but just less. If this is true, how could I be anything but disappointed?

On the other hand, if I just forgot about Blackjazz and thought about it as if this were a new band totally unrelated to Shining I would probably think this was a pretty awesome album. I mean if this was the new NIN (OK I keep saying this as if it exists, but it isn’t actually coming out until September) I would probably be impressed. So that puts me in a hard spot.

My new goal was to stop thinking of what was stripped from the previous album and think in terms of what was gained. I mean, it seems the band, which consists of musicians of a caliber that I really admire, are happy with the direction they’ve taken, so I figured I was missing something. I think maybe a good case study would be the second track “The One Inside.”

For one, I don’t think I can honestly say this track is less intense than the earlier stuff. More straightforward, yes. But the intensity and wild abandon from their last album seems to just be manifesting itself in this new medium. That full screaming sound of the vocals over the octave doubled ripping out of that ostinato pattern is really fierce. Then we get the old style sax solo. Again, not as free and avant-garde, but still pretty intense and wild.

Then we get to the gem of this song. I’ll even pinpoint it exactly for you so you can go listen to this greatness yourself. The new more straightforward and tight approach to the songwriting allows for much more subtlety. At 3:21 in the song they do something that blows me away from a technical standpoint. They let half the band get off by half a beat and hold it like that as if nothing weird just happened for once through the chorus then they come back together.

It sounds so normal that I totally missed it the first several times through. That takes some great musicianship to pull off in such a natural way. It is right when they’ve really settled into the groove the most too! It seems like that should stick out like a sore thumb. I think this is the key to why this album is a step forward from the last one.

Another example is the sixth track How Your Story Ends. This is the one that seems to have the most ties to the earlier sound. It opens with a big sax solo. Then there are tons of really subtle rhythmic complexities that happen throughout. It isn’t even really easy to describe them in words, but now that I’ve listened to many more times I’m kind of shocked that I missed this complexity the first few times through.

There is nothing natural about what’s going on, yet they pull if off as if it were just straightforward grooving industrial metal. Then the sax solo comes back, and though it is a bit more refrained than earlier work, it really is still quite sickeningly amazing and intense. I think this is the key to this album. The way they’ve moved forward is that they’ve turned some of the outward in your face level intensity and complication to a more inward thinking person’s album.

There is still that visceral rawness to their sound, but the more straightforward and tight songwriting allows them to do a lot more subtle technical things. Overall, I just don’t like it as much as their old album … yet. The straightforward repetition on this album does make my eyes glaze over at places. Those places are in the vast minority though. I think I’ll come to appreciate this more over time as these hidden subtleties start to reveal themselves to me more.

Overall I’ll give it an 8/10. Here’s a sample:

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