Shelter, the duo of Mark Bebb and Rob Bradley, have consistently proven themselves capable of producing understated, appealing electronic pop music. Whether on the upward-pointing arcs of their 2016 album Ascend or their celebrated collaboration with Erasure’s Andy Bell on iPop, Bebb and Bradley have a tight handle on how to make music that grabs you, lifts you up, occasionally gives you a firm, emotional shake and generally leaves you feeling just a bit more optimistic than you were before you started listening to it.
Third album Soar builds where Ascend left off with a collection of ten songs variously trading in thudding euphoria, fragile balladry and glossy synth pop. What works so well about the music these electronomads create is the humanising quality that vocalist Bebb brings to Bradley’s electronic templates. A track like ‘Touch’ ripples forth on a rich bed of synths, dark-hued rhythms and mesmerising melodies, but it is Bebb’s singular vocal that wreaks havoc with your emotions, adding a tenderness and delicate edge amid the alien, robotic sounds his voice weaves around.
One of the standout tracks here is ‘Karma’, which opens with a stern, angular bassline reminiscent of Fad Gadget’s ‘Back To Nature’ that is promptly overwhelmed by regimented rhythms and layers of icicle-sharp synth tones. Bebb here is the dramatic, finger-pointing sage, explaining pointedly to the listener that no action is without consequence, a note of empathy the only relief from an otherwise sinister delivery. Opener ‘Electronica’ is a bold, techno-infused paean to the electronic music of the last forty years, the line ‘Microchips and wires made us who we are,’ being just about the most pointed description of why so many of us remain fascinated by this enduring, constantly-evolving music.
It’s the album’s title track and ‘1984’ that steal the show here, though, both being brittle, heartfelt songs wrapped tightly in classic electronic pop blankets, all perfect melodies and propulsive rhythms. On these tracks the Shelter sound is reminiscent of Bright Light Bright Light, carrying the same dizzying ability to spin your emotions around full circle and leaving you uncertain whether you should be upbeat or miserable. (Anyone who’s spent any time with my reviews will recognise that as a songwriting quality that I fall in love with much more than is good for me.)
Soar is currently being crowdfunded and will be released as a two disc album complete with 12” mixes of each track. Head to Crowdfunder to show your support, where you’ll find a range of pledge options, including a special edition of iPop.
(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence