N. P. Stathoulopoulos | Brooklyn, NY | 06/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was one of the first drum 'n' bass albums I ever picked up, and in many ways it has spoiled me. I always find myself returning to the very smooth beats of Coxon and Wales. They do quite a bit with the form on this album, and they have proven to be one of the most interesting drum 'n' bass acts around. There's the Morricone-esque "Midwest", the throb of "Pan", and the dark and sinister "Roger Tessier". This is a really smooth, fine album that one can play straight through. May not suit hard jungle fans, but offers a very nice palette of sounds in what many think is a severely limited genre."
What? You don't have this already?
FlangeMechanism | 03/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is it, man. This is the one. If you searched Amazon for years after this you could not find an album richer or more exciting or more compelling. (Well ... okay. Not counting Orbital's In Sides.)
The formula is simple but perfect: driving beats and throbbing bass with futuristic and eerily dream-like sound effects. And spine-tingling atmosphere, laid on with a trowel. There are no words and no sunlight in this world, and you can't always see everything, but what you can see is just as intense as the title implies. Exhilarating, suspenseful pursuit and escape in a grim future--that's 68 Million Shades in a nutshell. There's a lot of old-school jungle elements, but writing this off as jungle is like calling Mount Everest a hill. No one ever did it like this, and (now that jungle seems passe and deep house and downtempo are the flavors du jour) no one will probably ever do it like this again.
"Take 1," my favorite track of the album, starts it off big with stark piano chords, in-your-face beats, clattering percussion, and an avalanche of less identifiable but very cool sounds, pulsing in a thrilling chase theme. Then the ante goes higher with the epic "Midwest," my favorite track of the album, with its synth crashes, wiggling electric guitar, and atmospheric washes that soar into ever higher and broader vistas. Amazing.
"60 Seconds," with its moody, blatting sax and sultry she-wants-it vocal sample, sounds like a warm-up for Masses. It's just an okay track, an idea that didn't reach full life until it was redubbed for Versions.
It's a close call, considering how packed this album is with highs, but for me "Pan" is the apex. There are 455 seconds in this track and I love every last one of them. I love every individual element that makes this track what it is. I love the whistling ambience that sounds like the breath of night, I love the underwater chimes and the Predator's ominous rattle, I love the tsst-tsst cymbal action and the nonchalant drumming, I love the funky bassline, I love the halo and percolating atmosphere effects, and I love, at the very end, the alarm clock that rings and seems to awaken me out of a dream that was taking place in the center of my own soul. Man.
Things get breakneck again with "Plates," which is my favorite track of the album, and calls to mind images of a hovercraft chasing a speederbike down a suspended, neon-lit highway. Among the compelling samples is an ethereal bell-like effect that seems like the voice of the night, and I'm perpetually enamored with what it has to tell me. Who needs daylight, anyway?
"Bar," with its brass and speeding-locomotive strings, joins "60 Seconds" in taking a playful break from all the serious chase-scene themes. When I hear this song I envision a tall, statuesque redhead in purple satin pajamas, being filmed through a purple filter against a white background, shutting her eyes and smiling contentedly as she grooves to the shuffling bassline.
A lot of the neon goes out and things get truly dark with "Eesti" (if the titles have anything to do with the content of the tracks themselves, I've never noticed it), which calls to mind images of hordes of ratlike creatures scurrying under a stormy sky. Actually, what I really associate this with is Lud, the Tick-Tock Man, and Blaine the Mono from Stephen King's The Waste Lands.
"Roger Tessier" is still darker, and "Island," while faster-paced, doesn't shed much light.
And then comes, yes, my favorite track of the album, "Suspensions." A piano chord strikes eerily again and again, then quickens with another chord, then builds slowly with strings and drums and bass into the ultimate nightmare. This is the longest track of the album and doesn't have quite as many elements as some of the others, but the elements that are there brim with power and the track as a whole is nothing short of utterly sublime. A terrifying epic. Halfway through the beats cut out and the strings and bass descend like fingertips pulling tracks into the foggy moisture on a cold windowpane while the piano corkscrews like a drugged moth, and my spine tingles so tightly it makes me convulse.
I got this album five years ago and I've been scouring electronica ever since, looking for something to equal it, since, alas, SHJ's subsequent five LPs went off in increasingly different directions. If you're on the same quest, let me say that their first album, There Are Strings, and 68MS's remix album, Versions, are indispensable. After that you should try Justice's Viewpoints, Orbital's In Sides, and (if you can find it) Skylobby's A Very Special Long-Playing Record. Platinum Breakz, the first King of the Jungle collection, and Dieselboy's albums aren't bad either. If you find anything else that compares, let me know."