ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: RICK SHAFFER
ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: RICK SHAFFER
Rick Shaffer’s eighth solo album, STOLEN MOMENTS, was inspired by the concept that there are no guarantees or promises in life, and every minute he spends writing and recording is precious time. The result is an album packed with low-tech wallop, bursting energy and immediacy. The production resembles The Stooges “Fun House” and is a proto-garage raver to end all garage ravers.
Read all the Liner Notes HERE.
Listen to full tracks on CD Baby.
Kicking off with opening track ‘Haus’, Bruce Cohen’s latest release Four BC hits out hard with a fierce beat that grabs the attention immediately. Without much hesitation, we are sent headfirst into a dizzying spiral of woozy ambient samples and an intoxicating melody made up of swirling glacial notes. There’s a slight tone of dread sitting beneath it all, while Cohen’s production keeps things wide and airy at the same time. His music builds gradually, adding various new elements to the mix as it progresses, constantly growing and holding the attention.
The underlying darker tones are maintained as we are led into ‘Luna’, with its sparse atmospheric pads that heave and groan under their own weight, giving a nod towards the soundtracks of shows like Twin Peaks and Stranger Things. Those earlier glacial notes return, adding contrast and atmosphere, with a sense of space that really pulls the listener in. As it develops, it becomes all embracing, reaching out and wrapping the listener into its own carefully constructed world of sonic mystery. Where are we being taken? Will we make it out alive? This is when the confident beat of ‘Lost’ kicks in, and we now find ourselves in an utterly alien landscape. Tones fly back and forth like an extraterrestrial language, trying to communicate but we are here without a translator.
Once you have made it a few tracks in to Four BC, you’ll begin to feel at home. It’s like being transported to another world but it’s not scary or overwhelming. Rather, it is entirely welcoming, where the listener is invited to relax and engage on whatever level they might feel able. It’s not the kind of ambient music where you can totally check out and let it wash over you – although it could quite easily serve that purpose – because there is so much going on that it really demands close attention and inspection. Sounds shift and change, never staying still but constantly evolving and reforming into new throbs and washes.
Whenever there has been a moment where things feel like they are really winding down (‘Rise’), suddenly we are headlong into a new sequence which takes us in a whole other direction (‘Seen’). In many ways Four BC is like being invited to a huge mansion and given the freedom to wander around to investigate its many rooms. As you begin to do so, you realize that every room is totally different with new things to discover. And further still, you begin to realize that each room has something in common with all the others. There is a plan here, Cohen has very carefully constructed a sequence of spaces that are totally consistent yet always offering something new. As a result, the album sits somewhere between chilled out ambient and cerebral EDM, making it the kind of record that can be listened to in a range of settings and for different listening purposes. It’s relaxed, but won’t send you to sleep. It’s engaging, but won’t exhaust you either.
• Chris Marsh • CrossRadar
He’s shared the stage with such acts as The Police, Blondie, and The Ramones. His music has been featured in major film as well as stage theater. He’s written and performed with multiple bands, and on his own. Perhaps you do not know his name, but you’ve likely heard something he’s done, as Bruce Cohen has been at this music thing for some time now.
While his previous band collaborations have produced punkish classic-rock (The Reds) and psychedelic jazz (Big Fun 3), Cohen, on his down time, has been quietly amassing a small library of electronica: 2009’s One BC, 2011’s Two BC, 2015’s Three BC, and of course his most recent effort for which we are gathered here today, Four BC.
However, this song smith’s newest project was produced in a far from typical manner. Rather than recording in the usual and customary fashion, Cohen decided to record the album live, with little to no overdubs, and no edits whatsoever. And, just for an added twist, each song was held to a four-minute time-frame in honor of this fourth installment to the BC series. Let me give you just a bit of a spoiler . . . it worked.
Here’s what we dug most…
Opening with Haus, BC builds a compelling rhythm, bass-line, and multiple layers of synthesized sounds, all the while a contrasting and somewhat divergent key riff loops in the background. As the melodies and layers build and fuse, I kept waiting for said divergent key riff to get old…it did not. Well done first track, he’s clearly a pro.
Straight out of some—as of yet—unwritten Sci-Fi film score, Luna is an ambient, percussion-less ocean of sound expanding in all directions, which reminded me of Ridley Scott’s 2012 film, Prometheus.
Seen is like something you might hear over an epic medieval battle sequence. The composition is suspenseful as inner, core rhythm and synth features drive on while ambient layers of sound arise from the exterior. This track is compelling and inspirational. (See video, and download a free mp3 on SoundCloud.)
In keeping with Four BC’s Sci-Fi theme, Pawn is a spacey rave/dance track that could simultaneously make the cut for both your “chill” and “weekend” playlists.
Our Favorite Track:
Capping-off this 12-track experience with Well, I must tell you, this is exactly what I wanted in a final track. The album has its light and its dark, its peaks and valleys, and as strange as it’s going to sound, I really wanted to leave this experience feeling refreshed. That said, ten seconds into this last piece, I knew it was going to make my all-time relaxation playlist (not an easy accomplishment). Combining gentle and subtly raw sound elements with a flute-like melody-line, Cohen closes the album in truly majestic fashion.
Like the ambient, symphonic soundtrack to someone’s fantasized, Sci-Fi life, Four BC is an adventurous, imagination-stirring, sonic experiment that is loaded with dynamic contrasts which alternate frequently between rhythm schemes that fit perfectly in the rave club scene—and—formless, morphogenic clouds of free-form sound that can transport your being-ness to another time and place. And, with more or less flawless production, what we have with Cohen’s fourth solo effort is entirely satisfying.
Whose lovechild…? Ambient electronica veterans Helios make a record with German composer Marc Streitenfeld.
∎ Noah James Hittner & The Ark of Music Team
The cacophony of synths in the background never really settles for a melody, and yet I can’t help but find the din all weirdly hypnotic as it hums and whirrs against the looping percussion in the foreground. For all I know it could just be a dude smashing random notes on a keyboard, although I’d like to think it’s more calculated than that.
∎ Alasdair Kennedy — Music Related Junk — Tracks Of The Week
Bruce Cohen is a founding member of the Philadelphia band, The Reds®, who’s first self-titled produced by David Kershenbaum, showed the band’s impressive blend of Rick Shaffer’s guitar, and Bruce Cohen’s keyboards. The album was supported with live appearances with such diverse acts as The Police, Joe Jackson, Blondie, The Ramones, The Psychedelic Furs, and Public Image. Cohen’s solo projects include musical scores for theatrical productions and his electronic album series “One BC”, “Two BC,” “Three BC,” and now the latest 2017 album – “Four BC.”
The liner explains that on this recording, Bruce Cohen returned to his ‘ambient electronic roots, with the slightly added twist of totally improvising every song to fit a self-imposed four minute time frame, with little to no overdubs, and no edits whatsoever.’
Douglas Rushkoff notes in his book that “ambient music isn’t a set of particular sounds one listens to but a space in which one breathes.” In “Four BC” the layers and washes of sound and music can be focused on or ignored, lazily mind-surfed or instead analyzed.
Never a trite “sound collage”, a problem which plagues so many in this genre, this album has moods, textures and rhythms that lend well to repeat listening. So you can dig deep or soar to the shore with this exceptional work.
Come equipped with a truly open mind because “Four BC” is easy to dismiss without one. As improvised music, it shouldn’t be surprising that one needs to experiment in finding the appropriate setting and circumstances for realizing its potential.
It may be as simple as using headphones in darkness; for others, it may need to be experienced in nature during a particular time of year. But the genius is in there waiting for you. If you can’t be bothered to put in the effort, then listen anyway as you’ll still find plenty to enjoy in terms of rhythms and sounds. It just more accurate listening is so much more rewarding.
I am a devout listener of ambient/electronic music, and when I played through “Four BC” for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because I was so used to the mundane commercial tracks of mainstream artists. I became instantly attuned to the vibrant, melodic vibrations and flowing wave-forms, and ethereal pings that instilled the vastness of space that was all beautifully, subtly and tastefully filled.
Frequencies are substituted for real soundscaping, as the tracks here, are evocative and extremely pleasant to listen to. This is music that favors abstraction and improvisation, yet everything sounds well-planned out and accessible enough to hold your attention.
On the album “Four BC,” Bruce Cohen offers us more than mere sonic manipulation. He looks beyond synth manuals and realizes music that is an inextricable weave of sound engineering, solitary reflection and ambient aesthetics. Consider the album’s tracks as various degrees of emotion, lingering, and then shifting to another state. For me, the musical subtlety of “Four BC” is in the impression left, rather than the story told.
∎ Rick Jamm — JamSphere MAGAZINE
Rick Shaffer is back with more of his signature proto punk, just as bristling and energetic as ever.
‘Killer Time’ kicks things off with swaggering vocals that race alongside the furious guitars which splutter along and give way to a solo that is curiously slurred and tight at the same time. ‘Going Down Slow’ paints the picture of devil-may-care driving down the road late at night, with flashes of British rock thrown into the mix. Rick Shaffer’s work continues to be exciting and engaging, on the one had looking back to the influences of early punk rock, while on the other always looking for new ways to communicate that punk aesthetic. ‘Your Charm’ takes a classic riff and redevelops it for its own purposes, like taking some old clothes and deconstructing them to be recreated in a new way. It’s all still the same fabric, but it’s sometimes time to be used differently. As a result, the tracks found on Outside Of Time have a feeling of familiarity while also offering the excitement that comes from engaging with new tunes.
Shaffer certainly sticks to a consistent model, and anyone who knows of his work is unlikely to be disappointed with this new selection of upbeat, swaggering tunes.