A new addition to the arsenal arrived courtesy of Earthquaker Devices
With Mirror Breathing, the Manchester-based duo enrich their electro template with fuller arrangements and an intimate, affecting narrative. They talk us though the creative development behind their second album“The approach was quite different this time. We moved house and we spent a long time doing it up, and Claire had these new songs – she was very clear that they were going to be the next record, but we didn’t really have anywhere to work. But we managed to build the studio and, as soon as that was done, we just got to work.”
Richard Knox reflects on the genesis and realisation of the follow-up to Shield Patterns’ staggering 2014 debut Contour Lines with a wry smile. For an act whose entire being is grounded in the DIY ethos, it’s more than just rolled-up sleeves that propels their art. But with visual design, PR, tour management and release (Knox runs Gizeh Records, the label he founded in 2004) managed solely by him and partner Claire Brentnall, it’s a timely reminder that in the modern industry, logistics and commerce increasingly throttle the business of making music.
That music begins with Brentnall, a classically trained musician whose distinctive vocals and lyrical acuity defined much of their debut. This time around, with the template in place and ready to be explored, the Shield Patterns sound is fuller, expansive, fearlessly free. Acclaimed cellist Julia Kent plays on three tracks – “I just asked her," says Knox, "we were thrilled when she said yes” – but her contribution aside, Mirror Breathing is a leap of some magnitude. A deftly sequenced work, its soundboard of keys, clarinet, deeply-layered electronica and stark beats showcases the duo’s best songs to date.
Mirror Breathing: Connections and impermanence
That title holds the key, though. Is there a double meaning in there? Fogged glass? Or, on reflection, a more fulfilling notion of co-existence and hearts beating as one? Brentnall nods: “That’s really nice that you’ve seen it that way because I love the duality of the words of that phrase: mirror breathing. It does conjure the picture of breathing on a mirror and I’m kind of obsessed with this idea of impermanence at the minute. But the primary function of it was connection, and so when you actually synchronise with someone, and when the breathing is matched, you achieve that kind of connection with other people: feeling part of something as well as recognising that you are this impermanent thing – this tiny thing in this universe.”
After Contour Lines, Shield Patterns subsequently released the four-track Violet EP, a chill work that brutalised the elegant melodics of their debut. The rich and complex arrangements of Mirror Breathing blur the line between melody and beats.
“I started writing almost immediately after the first album was finished,” says Brentnall. “Four of the songs worked quite well together and they formed the EP. They seemed like, as you say, this kind of dissonant thing compared to the album. The first album for me was about finding a way to communicate. I’ve always been very shy and making music was something that felt right, like a way to kind of express something I never found the right way to express. I’m not very good at speaking.”
Is that true?
“Well, okay, expressing how I feel... I think I’ve got better. I was always very shy and would struggle to actually say how I felt. The first album was kind of finding a way to communicate and now the second album is exploring that communication and those connections, and feeling part of the collective. That was, for me, the main impetus for this album: finding meaning in connection. It’s more about love and hope, I think, this album.
“I find writing music and lyrics very cathartic,” she continues. “I wouldn’t say that we are a political band, it’s more of an emotional questioning, trying to figure out why we’re here. I do sometimes feel overwhelmed by stuff but at the same time I love feeling really small. I love feeling that we are so fleeting. It’s a musing of sorts. It’s about starting a conversation.”
Mirror Breathing carries a deep emotional charge. Lyrically, its intimacies emerge as an often harrowing internal dialogue but for the listener, that sharing can provide a satisfying consolation. You hope the same applies for Brentnall. “Oh god, yeah. Making music is everything to me. lf I didn’t have that in my life... well at one point I didn’t, and I felt like there was something missing. If I’m not making music, I start to get anxious. The music helps, definitely.”
We talk about the arithmomania that gives the band its name: a routine that has affected Brentnall since she was a child and that causes her to create mental patterns with numbers and words in a bid to stave off anxiety and concern for the people around her. “Well, I’ve come to realise that it was a symptom of having a set of base anxieties; it’s something I’ve worked on a lot,” she explains. “It’s about finding ways to work with it because it does calm me at times. Like, for example, doing an interview – what I’m saying is being recorded and that’s really important to me, but while I’m doing it, I’m making this kind of pattern with my hands. That’s where where the name of the band came from. It’s something that I’ll probably always do my whole life. But now I’m starting to understand it better.”
Knox picks up on the theme: “This is a tangent, perhaps, but do you remember when Cameron did his resignation speech and there was that whole furore about when he turned around and sang a little tune? What’s the big deal? The Prime Minister of the country has just given up his job and we jump on him for that? To me that just showed his human side. I mean, I dislike the guy intensely but it showed a human quality. Whatever insanity is going through his body when he turns and walks away for the last time, that’s the thing that comes out: him humming a little tune. We should try to understand rather than ridicule.” He laughs. “We’ve got plenty of other material to ridicule him with.
“The name is really overlooked with this band,” he continues, “and I've been thinking about how we can make more of that.” It tells the story. “Yeah, it does. It’s a really good name but you can misunderstood it – it can come over as really shite!”
Who else sounds like us?
"Mirror Breathing is eminently accessible, and while the world overflows with boy-girl electro duos, Shield Patterns eschew the vogue modes – their complex aesthetic is a world from ersatz disco or monochrome industrial. They’re unique (Knox agrees: “Who else sounds like us?”). Where the album really succeeds is as an album: a longform piece; an out-and-back adventure. It’s not made for random play. It starts pensive, builds dread, finds comfort (or, at least, clarity) by the time closing track Glow shudders to a halt. “Well, it started out as a collection of songs,” explains Knox, “but then you have to figure out how they work together. We had a beginning and and end early on. We had five songs in the middle where we had a distinct flow. It was a challenge but one I think we met.”
After the release of debut Contour Lines, Knox was intrigued by a friend who’d said that Shield Patterns wasn’t what he (Knox) thought it was. Has that changed? “No. Not really,” he says. “I’m not sure what it is, really. It’s been a very different process making this album but, no, it’s still unclear in some ways.”
Brentnall offers her take: “The first album began because of some songs I’d written solo, before I met Rich. Then for this one, I basically took six months off work and decided to put everything into making it, and we worked really intensely on it together. It’s been a really nice process but I don’t know – I kind of get the fear once an album is finished, so now I’m like, 'Fuck! What comes now?' I kind of like the fear and I’m also a little bit shy about it. But I feel so proud of this one and it really matters to me that it connects with someone else. Even if it’s just one person, than that’s brilliant.” She smiles and shrugs. “And if people don’t like it, then that’s fine as well.”
Alright - this bad boy is now out in the great wide open.
Purchase it from Gizeh Records HERE. The limited vinyl is long sold out but standard version and CD is still available.
Shit the bed, it's like one whole damn year since we took this music to the people.... NEW record... rusted rehearsals + + figuring how in the name of holy hell do we play these new children of ours live?!?! - - - We busted some guts and our dear, dear, dear friend Tim is with us on sound for his SP debut..... We are mighty glad for this. HELLA drive north but we have catch up talk and the time is flying.... ~ ~ Arrival on festival site = chasing away the rain with our minds to set up the tent. We make it. s t a g e time is 12:30am = a long wait + dodging the wind and the rain as best we can. Tentatively drinking beers in anticipation..... meeting some old friends. Things are late / curfew beckons / we rush the set up and do the best we can. Tired, dark, no time for fixing shit.... head down and play/play/play. It's difficult but we survive. S o m e h o w. The festival setting is truly beautiful by day and by night and we drink until we fall asleep. We rise with fuzzzzzy minds and search for coffee and breakfast. Tim is broken. We move slowly and carefully before the HELLA >> drive south again.
A-Sun Amissa collaborator and all-round amazing bass-clarinet player Mr Gareth Davis has a new record out on Slaapwel. It also includes photography by Frédéric D. Oberland.
Go have a listen here > https://slaapwel.bandcamp.com/
Pre-Orders are now open for the new Shield Patterns album - Mirror Breathing, out September 2nd on Gizeh Records.
Visit the Gizeh Store to place your order.
Hildur Guðnadóttir "Fólk fær andlit/People Get Faces" video clip for EU refugee awareness.
Hildur Guðnadóttir created this video clip and composition titled "Fólk fær andlit/People Get Faces" to promote her perspective on the current, immense refugee situation affecting all of us in Europe.
Her note to the musical community:
What I am reaching out to you to do, is to share this video with your audience (most likely on your social media), and maybe a part of the text I have written. And encourage them to take some action, however small it might seem, to support Syrian refugees. Or what ever message you might have about the issue.
So far the artists that have taken a stand and shared this plea for action with their audience include; Sigur Rós, Studio Ólafur Elíasson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Ben Frost, múm, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Sóley, Sin Fang, Hauschka, Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds.
I am not collecting money and I am not working for any organisation. I personally do not benefit at all from embarking on this protest. I have never put a video on youtube before, and I don´t think I get any royalties from my music being played there.
One of the things that inspired me to step up and say anything at all was an interview I heard with Melissa Fleming (Head of Communication for the UN Refugee Agency) who said “ We´re in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since WW2. 60 million people have been forced from their homes. The problem about a crisis that big is that it´s incredibly hard to get people involved because we can´t get our head around a number that big.”
So many of us just do nothing.
I am one of the people I thought I could do nothing. And then I started thinking about ways to do something, and how to try to get more people to do something.
My only tools are music and a internet connection. And I thought, if I could only turn it into something tangible, that our individual actions actually matter. Maybe more people would at least do something. It might be naive, but it´s all I got.
So here´s the tangible part of the call for action so far:
Almost 10000 people have now heard my plea for taking a stand and taking action.
If the action all of them had decided to take was to donate 10$ to the cause of helping refugees (something that most people can afford and could do relatively easily no matter where they are in the world) - 100000 $ would have been raised already, and that could actually make a substantial difference in a lot of people´s lives.
The action could also be to do whatever else, donate food, clothes, sign a petition or volunteer. If we all just did something, we can make a difference. I am sure of that.
I sincerely thank you for joining me in this peaceful protest and call for action.
Hildur also wrote this text below:
People get Faces
In December 2015 we followed series of events in Iceland that touched most of us. Albanian children with terminal illnesses were deported from Iceland along with their families who had been denied residence permits.
We’ve been following the terror in Syria for 5 years now. We’ve seen children’s bodies been washed ashore after they’ve tried along with their families to escape tragic horrors of war. We see how thousands of refugees held in so-called refugee camps in Greece. People who have risked their lives to escape a war are confined to totally inhumane circumstances. It would be closer to the truth to say that they are being held prisoner.
This situation has been going on for such a long time and so many people suffer that most of us probably experience ourselves as powerless against it. We feel that this is happening so far away from us and surely someone else will come to their rescue.
When it happens in our own garden that terminally ill children are sent away to a place where they will most likely not get the medical assistance that is critical for their survival we can’t restrain ourselves anymore. We strongly object. We stand together and don’t give in until those children have been brought back to safe haven.
It was distressing to watch the series of events unfold in Iceland last December. How people divided into two separate oppositions, for or against. From the countless accounts and articles I read in relation to those events two particularly struck me.
The Minister of Interior was quoted saying:
“I have always found this becoming so extremely difficult once these people get faces.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about what exactly it was that became so difficult. Who “these people” were. Where the border of our compassion lies. When is it that peoples faces become uncomfortable.
The other thing that touched me was a cartoon made by Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir. There she said (to the sick Albanian child) “sorry, my little friend”. This stayed with me. I wanted so much to say sorry to all “these people” that we find so difficult to put a face on. Sorry that we stand by passively. Sorry that we tried all of you in such a horribly way.
I am fully aware of that I can’t change the world by myself. But I can make music and ask the listener to consider the border of his or her compassion and take a stand. If you decide to take a stand with humanity without borders I ask you to act accordingly and take measures in support of the thousands of refugees that have been forced to flee their homes. It can take the form of financial support (big or small), petition signatures, food or clothes donations or just by sharing this message so that more people will take action. Whatever. Just don’t do nothing. This war has now been going on for 5 years and a resolution is not in sight. There is so much we can do to help “these people”. They are not that far away.
I recorded this piece of music in last December and by the irony of fate now, about 3 months later, all kinds of different faces are surfacing. The faces of people that have hidden their business affairs in all sorts of havens. One of those faces is the face of The Minister of Interior, the same one who spoke those words that inspired this music.
I want to make it very clear that this piece of music is not intended in any way as a personal criticism towards her, her work nor her financial affairs. I am sure that her intentions are good. It was just her comment that made me think.
But I can second her when I observe the farcical chaos and complete lack of repentance that has been exposed since the revelation of the Panama Papers and “those people” got faces: I also find “this” extremely difficult.
That is why I sincerely hope that we can continue to stand together and get to a safe haven free from the governance and the politics of our current government.
Links to a few possibilities to take a stand:
Music and recordings: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Mixing: Francesco Donadello
Video: Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir