Whatever Shed's The Traveller is, it's anything but a predictable techno album parading one club track after another. Having issued a steady stream of twelve-inch material since 2003's Red Planet Express EP on his own Soloaction Records (including two EPs for the Amsterdam-based Delsin label), Berlin-based René Pawlowitz's follow-up to his 2008 debut album Shedding The Past (also on OstGut Ton) is a forty-eight-minute ‘headphones' album that's as much a playground for his experimental side as it is an ambitious challenge to dance music conventions. Often the focus is less on club tracks than artful set-pieces that include a strong rhythm dimension as just one element of many.
“Keep Time” turns heads with a booming bass drum as huge as the Grand Canyon (a similar humongous kick drum barrels through the later “My R-Class”) and an ear-catching bar-by-bar alternation between a a pounding 4/4 groove and funky drum lick involving high-pitched toms. Melody is downplayed but the track holds one's interest purely on production grounds with the electronics and drum elements combining for three minutes of alien boom-bap. Unfortunately the momentum established by “Keep Time” is squandered when the subsequent “The Bot” offers a largely static, six-minute exercise in ambient electronic sound design. Yes, the track's notable for the nuance of its reverberant production design and the subtlety of its textural interplay, but its slow-motion pulse also grounds the album just when it should be taking flight. “The Bot” might have been better positioned in the album's second half as a welcome opportunity for the listener to catch his/her breath after an energy-draining first half. The pile-driving swoon and vaporous voices of “Atmo – Action” thankfully return us to the peak level of “Keep Time,” as does the tribal electro-funk sparkle of “44A (Hard Wax Forever!)” that follows. “Mayday” sets forth with a thudding slow-motion head-nod, moving like a dinosaur shaking the ground with each step, before shifting into up-tempo house swing mode, and “Final Experiment” shows that even the most minimal rhythm track can turn artful in the right producer's hands when embellished by imaginative textural design. The album also includes a brooding ambient overture (“STP 2”), what one might call orchestral techno (“Hello Bleep!”), plus a few samplings of thunderous techno, such as the raver “HDRTM” whose gyroscopic swirl is tailor-made to decimate the clubbing masses at peak time.
In general, the album's material earmarks Shed as a producer of artistic note who's clearly got his sights set higher than the average minimal techno producer content. The Traveller is an unpredictable and genre-hopping album in the true sense of the word, with its fourteen pieces forming a mercurial and multi-coloured patchwork. It's appealingly concise too, with only one track exceeding the six-minute mark and most in the three- to four-minute range.