[sic] Magazine

Shield Patterns – Contour Lines

As a magazine which prides itself on quality writing and rallies against mainstream laziness I feel something of a fraud in having fallen foul the lazy pigeonhole when I first heard Shield Patterns. It was in advance of the album when the first promotional tracks started to emerge. On hearing ‘Dust Hung Heavy’ I announced to friends that Shield Patterns were akin to “Portishead fronted by Kate Bush”. Awful, I admit. My standards are slipping.

Thankfully Gizeh’s are not. This always engaging, talented, dedicated label has found another gem. I say ‘found’, Shield Patterns comprises Richard Knox and Claire Brentnall. Knox runs Gizeh and often contributes to the various acts thereon. It may therefore be more accurate then to say Shield Patterns found(ed) Gizeh. Knox has signed himself. Why not? Music is art. Art is indulgence. And Contour Lines is tremendous.

At least it is in places.

So you already have your early ‘Kate Bush meets Portishead’ signpost. Roll your eyes, I certainly deserve it. Then, pause to consider how good that would actually sound?. Portishead! With Kate instead of Beth!


Listen for yourselves. There is a sequence from ‘Carve The Dirt’ to ‘Dust Hung Heavy’ which is an utterly compelling listen. Before that we’re obliged to navigate challenging album opener ‘Shade’. As first tracks go this seems an odd choice to me. ‘Shade’ lacks the immediacy of its successors. Like a dark cloud it is charged with ominous foreboding and I feel that it risks losing some listeners before the main event. Indeed its final movement is progressive, out of place and frankly baffling. No matter. The cream sequence comes next.

The second half of the record loses its way somewhat. Or maybe fairer to say, it knows exactly its direction, it just isn’t where I want it to go. ‘Ruby Red’, like earlier cut ‘The Rule’, lurches around in search of a purpose. Portentous swathes are clearly intended to add drama, but the script isn’t tight enough. ‘Present State’ works better going all Massive Attack on us. This could’ve been on Mezzanine with its dark muscular beats and cooing, Fraser-esque singer. Brentnall is actually something of a revelation as a vocalist of some distinction. I like her best when she’s cherub quivering rather than her, more staple, pure beauty voice.

Gizeh is a serious label for serious musicians. Unsurprisingly then, the music is also serious. Shield Patterns are no exception to this. No laughs here. This is icy IDM, cool, sensual and edgy. I have no problem with any of that. My sole reservation over this album is that ‘Carve the Dirt’, ‘Ghost Words’ and ‘Dust Hung Heavy’ raised the bar so high for me, both individually, but even more so as a collective that the rest of Contour Lines couldn’t sustain it.

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