Ben Shields records under the name Dull Reality and, although it’s an easy observation to make, his music is anything but. Shields works almost purely in the realms of electronic sounds – shape shifting electronica that is complex and multi-layered and given impetus and wings by his extraordinary vocal range and vivid imagination.
Opening track of Dull Reality’s EP ‘Daffodils’ is a stunning tour de force. A stuttering drum beat start and splashing synths give way to a sudden spark and the song catches on fire. A thunderous synth bass underpins the sweeping synths and, high above, Shields sings in a euphoric falsetto that has the force and power of Jimmy Somerville’s vocals in Bronski Beat. The track ebbs and flows in intensity with a spacey pause in the middle, but keeps a steady flow to the end.
The title track positively bubbles and snaps from one side of your head to the other – syncopated, arpeggiated popping sonics that massage, confuse and delight the ears. Over the top, Shields’s voice glides, swoops and circulates with melody: a contrapuntal force against the seemingly random sounds being generated below. It’s a fabulous melange – I am reminded of the electronic muscle and dynamism of Cabaret Voltaire mixed with the yearning pop sensibilities of The Beloved (in my view one of the most underrated bands of the nineties).
‘Push Myself Away’ is another sparkling, textural, multi-layered track. With a motorik syncopated beat and a synth wash, a hypnotic jingling in the far distance, this is a transfixing delight – an ominous synth bass patters softly in the background while Shields’s voice has a distant, chilling aura.
Final track ‘Up In Lights’ has a mesmerising drone and hypnotic pounding drums with a sonic architecture that is distant and complex. Shields’s vocals are almost falsetto – haunting and melancholic amongst the pips and squiggles of the synths and clattering percussion.
‘Daffodils’ is as far from pop as you could get, and yet it is compelling and immersive with its driving, syncopated rhythms and Shields’s extraordinary voice that become a transfixing, expressive instrument of its own. Like bands such as Sigur Ros, Dull Reality creates its own sonic architecture and atmosphere with a disco-like thrum that recalls the intoxicating effects of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’.