(In this post DGR reviews the new album by Shining.)
Heads up folks: If the blindingly orange cover art didn’t tip you off, we’re discussing Shining (Norway), not Shining (Sweden), whose latest album Andy actually reviewed here in December of last year. Also, this review is written from a really weird perspective of someone who is not really able to be neutral, but instead really worshipped Blackjazz – thus I found myself drawing quite a few comparisons between these two very different discs. Just a fair warning.
I think listening to Shining is one of the things I do when I want to pretend I am smarter than I actually am, the other being attempting to occasionally put up a coherent couple of paragraphs here at NCS. It’s an intellectual exercise designed to prove that I’m not just some drooling idiot, though trying to string together some sort of descriptor of what these guys do and why it appeals to me feels like a futile effort because, frankly, almost everyone in Shining is highly intelligent and qualified on their instruments and I am as dumb as a rock.
As one of the people who absolutely fell in love with their Blackjazz release – I have a very layman’s understanding of how these guys meld jazz song structures and musical theory with heavy metal and the occasional prog flourish. I just can’t explain exactly what is going on and I think that, even in the group’s uglier moments when what they are doing seemingly makes no sense, that is what draws me to them. It was the humongous challenge of trying to understand the cacophony of Blackjazz that had me constantly coming back to it, so the prospect of seeing what the band would do next, either expounding upon their initial construction or changing it up with One One One, was exciting as all hell.
If there is one charge that you could never level against Shining, for sure it would be that they are resting on their laurels, because One One One is a very different album from Blackjazz.
One One One is a starkly different disc for a couple of reasons. Shining have maintained the same lineup from Blackjazz, but it seems that this album was written around three core instruments (guitar, drums, bass – a more conservative sounding setup), with everything else brought in to flavor each song. It sounds like a very stripped-down approach compared to previous efforts, but it works, because it feels like the band have set some boundaries and decided to work within them — to see how far they can push them until they break.
One of the more popular narratives of a trip through Blackjazz was listening to the first couple of songs and finding them pretty approachable, songs like “The Madness and the Damage Done” and “Fisheye” (which also became the singles from that disc), and then the whole album just went nuts and was sometimes impossible to keep track of. One One One feels way more approachable, with songs going the less-complicated, way more hook-focused route. Compare that to Blackjazz, where almost everything was running high octane at all times.
As a result, One One One is an album less prone to the utterly cacophonous moments of Blackjazz — yet in a different way it’s just as on-edge, because now that the potential for mayhem is there, each song hints at the possibility of a chained-up musical beast about to be released. Each song conveys the sensation of the ride before the first drop on a rollercoaster — except you never reach that first drop. Thus, One One One constantly leaves you a little unnerved and sitting on knife’s edge.
For instance, one of the things that really stands out on One One One is the minimized keyboard presence. There was a ton of synth work previously, and it alternated from regular piano to more glitched-out samples and various blips and bloops that could have come from an 8-bit video game system. This time around, the work is used to sparing effect — often for atmosphere, by holding out notes in the background and occasionally jumping in just to make something seem excessively manic.
Thus, you wind up with an album that is significantly more accessible than Blackjazz – which I imagine is some sort of heresy in Shining circles. However, it still does share the occasional bizarre similarity to its predecessor. I swear that “I Won’t Forget” is like “The Madness And The Damage Done”, in that both songs are so goddamn catchy and just simple enough at points that you think you could actually play them and have difficulty getting to the rest of the disc because they would wind up on near-infinite repeat. I’ve made multiple trips through One One One at this point, and likely triple that on just “I Won’t Forget” alone.
Of the two new songs probably closest to Blackjazz, one is the appropriately titled “Blackjazz Rebels”, which serves as another highlight for the disc – if not just because it really helps solidify that One One One is a more recognizably jazzy record than its predecessor (less free-jazz improvisation and more recognizable song structures). The other, “The One Inside”, has a very familiar swing beat to it. Still on-edge as hell and not likely to appeal to your friends who go see jazz concerts in the park, but the familiarity could actually bring quite a few new folk into the fold.
The only song on here that could grate a little bit would be “Off The Hook”, and that’s mostly due to a pretty interesting vocal choice on the part of Jørgen Munkeby; which is something of a borderline scream/whine…I think? He tries so many different vocal approaches alongside the expected saxophone insanity that you certainly couldn’t fault the guy for lack of bravery on the vocals front. Most of the time his newer approach (which relies very little on an overall shriek and scream) works really well. Again, since this is an entirely different record from Blackjazz, you’ll find yourself humming vocal lines far more often than with the insanity that was in place before.
With a nine-song setup, One One One tends to blur by pretty quickly. All the songs feel very reigned-in this time, which seems a given, since this album is on the opposite side of the Shining spectrum as it has unfolded so far. It feels like a smart album, but for different reasons. Whereas the last disc was what four guys who are incredibly accomplished on their chosen instruments could do with absolutely no one stopping them or telling them to tone it down a bit, One One One sounds like what happens when the group chooses to exercise a bit of self-restraint — to see if they can still produce that same effect with a more minimalistic sound.
They have given us an album that is easier to recommend to people, yet they have also created something that still has quite a few things hidden within it. The songs may be shorter and way catchier — to the point where it functions like a quick hit of songs that get stuck in my head — but there’s always a bridge, a quick segue, something that is just off-kilter enough that trying to stammer out just what the fuck that moment was is still going to send you walking in logistical circles, music-wise – unless you have the same vast knowledge of music that these four do.
One One One is easier to recommend to people because it is a great album; the music isn’t so dense as to be almost impenetrable (which, granted, was my main draw to their previous disc in the first place), and every instrument is given room to breathe, or just take a breather in general. A lot of One One One brings to mind the old axiom that just because you have the ability to do something, doesn’t mean that you should. Everything feels strategically placed so that the band get the maximum impact for a more minimalist amount of showmanship, and it works. Really, really well.
UPDATE: We’ve also now added a just-released video with excerpts of all the songs being performed live.