Team Shadetek know their snares. On Reign, they borrow a reggae clang from Wiley; on Just Begun, they borrow a funk thunk from RZA; on Kalamata, they borrow an r'n'b click from the Neptunes. On every track, the snare slots in with all the precision of a space shuttle part, and it's just this attention to detail that often lets the duo surpass the producers they're supposed to be imitating.
While Burnerism, their 2004 EP on Warp, was an arduous experiment in glitches and distortion, Pale Fire is a dark engagement with grime, hip hop, and dancehall. With fifteen guests on sixteen tracks, it's a bit like an underground version of Timbaland's forthcoming Shock Value (except thankfully without, like, Deerhoof taking the place of Fall Out Boy). And although Matt and Zak come from New York and recorded a lot of Pale Fire in Berlin, they get grime. You may already have heard Brooklyn Anthem, on which dancehall MCs 77Klash and Jahdan yell about their borough over a hail of handclaps that recalls Dexplicit productions like Pow! and No!: as a transatlantic response to the London sound, it's almost as extraordinary as when Jay Z and Memphis Bleek got an actual string section to play Pow! at the Royal Albert Hall. Elsewhere, Shadetek bring in proper grime MCs like Skepta and Jammer. The latter's track, Separating, is great, mostly because of the total incongruity of the peppy vocal with Shadetek's funereal bleeps and flares of dubstep echo.
Other highlights include Make It - which is a surprisingly straightforward stab at some Kanye West/Just Blaze-style gold-tooth party hip hop, the squealing soul sample making a nice change from the arid synth textures of the rest of the LP – and Ka Rock, with rapper Rustee Juxx over an orchestral battalion that could soundtrack the trailer for Blade IX.
The only real problem with Pale Fire is that Shadetek are just too faithful to their source material. These guys know their old-skool jungle, they know their Aphex Twin, they know their Basic Channel, so why don't we hear any of that? They seem so eager to prove that they can be insiders in all their favourite genres that maybe they forget they can be more interesting as outsiders. Still, there's probably no one in grime or dancehall producing albums as consistently tough (but entertainingly varied) as this. In the words of KRS One, Brooklyn keeps on taking it - except that KRS could never have predicted that Brooklyn would take it quite like this.
Out now on Sound Ink.