At the time of writing a piece for Tiny Mix Tapes on the life and work of Matt Shoemaker, I was aware of the existence of a backlog of unreleased recordings that I selfishly hoped would one day be taken out of storage, dusted off, and released into the world. As it turns out, the astute label operators at the Helen Scarsdale Agency were many steps ahead, and I have thus not had to wait long at all to get my greedy hands on fresh Shoemaker material.
The label presents two posthumous albums by Matt Shoemaker released under the guise Fosil Sangiran, a moniker the artist thought could offset what he perceived as his commonplace birth name. It’s the kind of reasoning that feels so bound to the selfless, largely anonymous modes of artistic expression in which Shoemaker thrived, and has stirred in me the question of why he released any music under his given name at all.
As a fan of Shoemaker’s work for years I’ve attempted to set aside obvious biases that could plague an objective critique of new material. Some would argue that this is next to impossible a task, so let’s just note, as a disclaimer, that I’ve been primed to fall in love with this music before hearing it. A dangerous situation to be in perhaps, but push onward we must.
Despite the altered persona, Fosil Sangiran sounds like only a slight pivot in the moods and stylings that typify Shoemaker’s catalog. Of the two albums, Khayal Kuno is more of a departure, landing at a halfway point between the beat-laden “Flight | Chromatic Splitting Injunction” and the bulk of his other material. Shoemaker worked with field-recordings plenty, but even when not readily heard his compositions point to natural mysteries seeded within the world’s seldom explored realms. After its initial plume, Khayal Kuno’s A side (“Bagian Satu”) leads one down a murky river whose banks one could picture be filled with jungle rot and things that can kill with a single blow. Not even Joseph Conrad could’ve dreamt up this soundtrack to his Heart of Darkness, as much as it would so perfectly fit the bill. By the side’s close the brilliantly employed polyrhythms again find me cursing the sad truth that not enough people will hear this music.
Khayal Kuno‘s flip further explores the sounds of noxious rhythms via drum machine sequencing. The piece’s retrocosmic fissures that chemtrail over a booming bass beat bring to mind Clinton William’s long-running Omit project — another Seed favourite whom the label has also likened to this release. However, Omit’s recent albums have felt a bit lost in space, whereas this Shoemaker arrangement unfolds with purpose. Paradoxically, the lifespan of Shoemaker’s sonic layers are predicable yet foreign, like how one might imagine the experience of observing a tide on an alien planet. Nothing about Shoemaker’s music is straightforward, but one needn’t look further than his artist’s statement to gain at least a vague idea of what they’re in for: “Obviousness is my art’s antithesis.”
On to Pasar Fosil, an album that begins uncharacteristically lighthearted before soon finding a natural Shoemaker footing with the introduction of rasping, metallic drones. The balance of noise and ambient pleasantry is stunning, harkening to those classic Trente Oiseaux albums. Really amazing stuff. Perfect for one’s mid-afternoon thought cleanse. Side B effortlessly builds on the ending of the opener, whose traces of dark are given more licence to guide the mood in a welcomed return to form. As with any of Shoemaker’s work, innate mystery is impetus for enraptured listening.
Sangiran is the name of an Indonesian UNESCO world heritage site where Shoemaker spent time between 2012-13, and where these albums took shape. The area is known for its archaeological importance, where findings of fossilized humans have been abundant. I could not draw a clear connection between this place and Shoemaker’s music until I thought about his death as a young man. Future generations may not come across this artist’s bones but they will no doubt discover his music, fossilized in the CDs and tapes that will hold a fraction of a then bygone creative era. Will these artifacts lead to more questions than answers? Likely so. I say let the mystery live on. Shoemaker would have wanted it that way.