In the present world, we see less and less shades of grey (gray). Everything has to be black or white, awash with absolutes or at least made to feel that way. However, music is of course an entity that can accentuate our escapism via emotion, although this is often only fleeting. Beef Records have helped blur the sentient lines once more, with a third full length studio album from the duo known as ‘Shades of Gray’.
The half Czech, half Australian duo consists of long-time friends Michal Ruzicka (aka DJ Schwa) and Nick West. The pair met in 2005, when Michal landed in Australia for a handful of gigs. His head full of dreams and bag full of vinyl, Michal’s forthright passion swiftly struck gold when he bumped into Nick and they hit it off immediately. Their cognizant opinions regarding the obsession of genre within the music industry, and unerring love of producing and DJing music intertwined and within no time - they became studio and label partners. The Shades of Gray moniker was soon borne out of this musical connection, and by 2007 they had released their first 12” on their own Beef Records.
After an array of 12” releases, digital EPs and two other albums, in December of 2019 they brought us ‘Under My Skin’, an LP that has been in the making since 2016. If we take into account the pairs’ proven production experience, the 3 years taken to make this new LP and also the fact that their debut album was included in the 50 best albums of 2011 by DJ Mag, these facts should naturally combine to form a release of extreme quality. Let’s delve deeper and check out the bones of this long-cultivated skeleton.
The title track ‘Under My Skin’ is a steadily pumping creature, shifting the album into a 3rd gear with almost no resistance or warning. Next up, the Detroit-element laden ‘Midnight Hills’ perfectly encapsulates the duo’s comprehensive ability to fuse various shades, influences and genres via their acute sonic unity. ‘The Taylor Kings (Edit)’ is a funky but weird little concoction, adding some oddball synth spirit to the album’s psyche. The sugar-coated ‘Interlude’ sits prettily in the middle, coercively disrupting the record with its shrill, melodic ambience. After that, the delightfully named ‘Monday Toxins (Mondays Can Be Rough)’ will strike a chord with many on first glance, poignantly reminding us of Mondays spent wallowing in pits of despair, trying to rid our bodies of party poisons. However the track itself is more reminiscent of antics aligned with weekend escapades; it is a hectic groover, with a cascading bassline and militant percussion. ‘The Order of Things’ comes next, a creeping chugger laced in cinematic emotion. This may well be the stand-out track for me, as it is denotes Shades of Gray’s desire and ability to never be truly pigeonholed. Their album is rounded off by ‘Mondays Toxins (DJ Schwa’s Red Dub Mix). Schwa rejigs the percussion and renews the beat with a funky guise, leasing life and pushing it into paths outside of the accepted house realms.
The whole package is attractive and transient. The duo have created a durable album drawing on their extensive experiences as a musical entity. A heads up for the vinyl crew also enjoying this record, an album sampler was released about 2 weeks before the actual album, with copies still available from the usual spots. Remixes on the 12” come from Prime Numbers boss Trus’Me and Jamie Stevens, member of legendary (defunct) Aussie band ‘Infusion’.
Album Released: 6th Dec 2019 (Beatport)