Under the Spire jokes that Mike Shiflet has released a “quadrillion” works this year. While this is obviously an exaggeration, the artist is prolific enough to rival Celer and Machinefabriek in output. Luckily, the label is right to state that The Choir, The Army is one of his best releases to date. The new LP – on purple vinyl! – is focused, driven, and consistent. Its quality and flow would be remarkable if found on any release, but can be considered even more so given Shiflet’s schedule.
In light of the cover (something like a half-completed Tower of Babel) and the title (reminiscent of the “army of angels” singing at Christ’s birth), one might theorize that the new album has something to do with religion. While this is merely an implication, it seems to make sense; the fuzzed-out drones and busy atmospheres yield both serenity and awe. Seraphim (“warrior angels”) are frightening creatures – perhaps less so than the cherubim described in Kings – and yet they are also creatures of great beauty. In the same sense, The Choir, The Army can be described as sounding fearsome and tender, all at once. There’s no pummeling moment, no terrible swift sword to be found here, but neither is there refuge or respite. Would you want to look directly at an angel? Probably not. But would you look away?
A fierce intelligence is at work behind these tracks: an instinct for sound. Each piece is a foray into texture and modulation. Opener “1917” begins with a sound that lies between boiling and flame; closer “Yonder” delves into dissonance with atonal violin. By establishing the perimeters, Shiflet affords himself the opportunity to wander within. The palette stretches from ambient (“Inching”) to noise (“Asymptotes”), but the thread is never lost. Best of all is the percolating “Zahlentheorie”, which builds steadily on a solid drone base, expanding like frost with growing electronic gurgles.
Under these conditions, we would normally say, “Please take a break before your next release.” Not this time. With quality this high, the pace is no problem. (Richard Allen)