I’m slightly cheating with this one since Shinichi Atobe’s Ship-Scope was actually released way back in 2001, but it seems to have slipped entirely under the radar and didn’t turn any heads until it was reissued earlier this year on Demdike Stare. It probably shouldn’t feature on a ‘best music of 2015’ list but hey, guess what? It’s my list so I can do whatever the fuck I want.
Ship-Scope is a 4-track EP of ambient/dub techno that initially surfaced on Chain Reaction, the same label that released Porter Ricks Biokinetics, one of my favourite techno albums of all time. Musically it fits the same washed out, bass-heavy mould as that album, with a focus on texture over melody or drums. These 4 tracks are thick, beautiful and dreary – they pulsate like waves breaking on a deserted beach in the rain, and they are guaranteed to push the low end of your speakers to the limit. It’s this quality that makes Ship-Scope the most elusive of techno treasures: introspective headphone music that can simultaneously move a dancefloor.
Opener ‘Ship-Scope’ kicks things off in much more ambient territory, however, with a beatless swirl of keyboards and strange, receding tones creating a sense of alien melancholy. After this, the record starts to move. ‘Plug and Delay’ introduces tectonic basslines and skittery drums into the mix, all slathered in aquatic reverb until it sounds like the first warning sign of an underwater earthquake. The arrangement of these tracks is economic throughout – none of them are busy with detail, and there are no explosive drops or hooks. Instead, they settle into a steady groove and then elaborate on it with all kinds of subtle sonic detail.
This is certainly the case for the stunning final track on the record, the eight minute long ‘The Red Line’. Opening with a heavy bass pulse and a simple, affecting keyboard melody, it gradually brings a host of other inscrutable sounds into the mix: a wash of white noise that could be the wind blowing through sails, and something that sounds like a sample of a rattlesnake hissing. All of this is brought to a beautiful, stirring climax as the song builds and then eventually dissipates, receding back into the swampy mist it came from.
It’s the attention to detail contained within these 4 tracks that sets Ship-Scope apart and makes it (even if it was released 14 years ago) one the most engaging pieces of electronic music I set my ears on in 2015.