Grade Records - 2004 - 55 minutes

What strikes you first is the production. Lush, faultless, the kind of soft focus sheen that would make Phil Collins proud. You get the impression that every edge, every crack, has been smoothed over so successfully that there is nothing left for the listener to grab hold of. This may be desired by clean shaven boy bands and ex-drummers from Genesis, but one look at the range of musicians involved in The Shades suggests the bar should be set so much higher.

Cellos and flutes rub shoulders with turntables, sequencers and samplers - this is a group that brings some serious musical firepower to the table. A collective that should carry some real clout seems strangely, even deliberately, muted.

'Taking My Time', the opening track, gets the 'Explosive' off to a fine start. The double-tracked, almost choral vocals suit the mood of the song perfectly. This sets the tone for the rest of the album which, like the tempo, is frustratingly unvaried.

This is not an album of bad music, far from it. But the lack of range and smothering production seems to have blunted the sharp edge this music deserves to have.

Occupying the space between hip-hop and electronica without ever tapping into the vibrant pulse of either of those genres, The Shades' music remains resolutely downbeat and low-key. That in itself is no bad thing, but the impression that 'chill out' was the category that this music was designed to fall into seems to have neutered any ability to surprise the listener.

Ray Donoghue

Tracklisting: Taking My Time - Explosive - Shine On - Cider Horizon - Made In Five Minutes - Tripping Time - Breathe - How To Find A Hobo - Out On A Limb - Long Time