Mature and reflective, heterogeneous yet strangely coherent, The Shape of X to Come is a release whose title suggests a promise, a harbinger, a signpost towards a future direction; its densely layered ideas, together with its warmth, richness and texture, cannot help but leave the listener intrigued as to where this x, this unknown quantity of mythical lore, might be leading us.
Those familiar with the artist’s discography to date, characterised by a sound that has been firmly grounded in the acid aesthetic that formed the staple of the analogue and digital paradigm, will no doubt be taken by surprise at its absence throughout the album. In a curious change of tack, The Shape of X to Come presents us with music that goes beyond the typical palette of electronic sounds, with the heteroglossia of electronic music machines being substantially augmented and challenged by the development of a form of incipient polyglossia that seeks to incorporate less familiar acoustic sounds à la Drukqs or Ultravisitor. Thus we can hear percussion that, while retaining the intricate programming arrangements of previous releases, incorporates the physical sounds of traditional drum-kits: the trademark kicks and hand-claps remain present but are blended with the living sound of real hats and cymbals that imbue the arrangements with extra bite and punch.
Likewise, the electric guitar makes a curious appearance, reaching an intense and triumphant culmination in Playing My Heart Out, as does the accordion, used to skilful effect in tracks such as Tired of Wanting to Be Him, where it rises up from a gap in the music to deliver a wistful coda to the piece, and Empire of Oppression,where it is used as a voice to state the opening theme. Finally, there is also the use of the piano in the two interludes and postlude that punctuate the album, providing much needed spaces for reflection: the first with a hint of nostalgia, the second notable for its tension, and the third for its melancholy, where the accordion reappears to accompany it as together they usher the album to a poignant close.
Yet the heterogeneity of the music is not confined to its acoustic palette but is also woven into the fabric of individual tracks and the overall composition of the album itself. Both the introduction and prelude are perfectly judged and encase a composition bristling with energy and ideas. Perhaps most notable are transitions indicative of a carnavalesque approach, whereby the classicism of sparse piano arrangements is juxtaposed with the vitality and exuberance of modern electronic music. Hence, emerging out of the delicate arrangement of Interlude 1, the listener is struck by the jarring transition that is the opening to I Win You Lose. Notable also are transitions and juxtapositions within tracks themselves, such as in Empire of Oppression where a melancholy accordion finds an unlikely counterpart for dialogue in a steelpan whose Caribbean gaiety seems to struggle to reach fulfilment against its oppressive lament, or in Monk’s Coda where the intensity of the percussion arrangement, with a propulsive force that harks back to the era of early platform games, provides a structure that allows progressive rock motifs to sit cheek by jowl with the screeching sounds of an elephant.
From the early days of his Sonic Fiction releases, Monolog X has stood out among those working within the analogue and digital paradigm, yet this release is the mark of a restless artist who, while maintaining a certain progression in their music, refuses to conform to the doxa of a specific genre or subgenre. The Shape of X to Come is an album that marks what may strike some as a surprising shift, a change that represents both a step forward and a new direction with respect to the artist’s previous releases. It is a release that makes clear how much a certain lineage of electronica has evolved in what is now over three decades of development.