The modern Christian take on sin is that it can be forgiven, so the next logical question inevitably follows: why stop sinning? In Romans 6, Paul the Apostle approached the idea of God offering more grace to sinners with a warning for any misinterpretation – don’t gamble with what you are powerless to. Religion exists in part to train people to believe in punishment for your actions, that disobeying the preordained law can result in your damnation. What happens though when society seems to never reflect that by allowing people to fail upwards and to get away with the vilest injustices? More specifically, how can one watch seemingly the most stupid narcissist on Earth become President, and you have to accept that many people around you – or better put, above you – want it that way?
These moral conundrums forced Drew Daniel to rethink how he makes music, and from the New Testament-quoting title onward, it’s clear a new aesthetic direction was fully conceived. Daniel is one half of the electronic music duo Matmos, who peaked around the turn of the century with 1999’s The West and 2001’s A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. Their sound is an experimental form of IDM and a bit too melodic to be considered glitch. Daniel has used the Soft Pink Truth moniker for solo work since the early 2000s, and up to now, it has essentially only existed as a Matmos side project. His solo work has been a bit facetious with an eye towards more conventional electronica, so it’s safe to say that Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase? comes a bit out of nowhere and is surely the most impactful release he’s ever made, Matmos included.
Drew Daniel’s evolution goes beyond the introduction of thematic weight into his craft; he realized the entire aesthetic had to change to meet the new demands. Where once existed comical 4/4 dance beats is now subtlety in pace. Big DFA Records-style drumming is replaced by percussion that is always carefully-considered before being used. Brazen vocal samples are cast aside for an angelic chorus of Colin Self, Angel Deradoorian, and Jana Hunter throughout the album. The danger in throwing out your old clothes, so to speak, is that your new clothes might not fit right. Instead, the new garb of spiritual ambient techno illuminates Daniel’s artistic style to its fullest extent.
The album starts in limbo and lets the listener remain there until the middle of the second track. The angelic chorus repeats the title, implanting it in your head musically rather than letting it stay stagnant as a Bible quote. To take it further, the full quote is spread across sequentially in each song title; we are enveloped in this quote, and within every interpretation and significance it contains. As the second track, “We”, slowly takes shape, Daniel’s aesthetic intent becomes clear. What seems quiet and lugubrious is actually palatial with a vibrant depth in each track’s mix. The vibraphone and saxophone flesh out much of the album’s beautifully washed-out textures; the latter instrument is notoriously hard to keep in check, and it’d still be easy to miss without liner notes.
The key to the album is its pace and track flow, and in that regard, it is flawless – truly one of the best examples for an album of this caliber in quite some time. What Shall We Go on Sinning shows is that great album flow is not the same for every album. They can flow like a seamless mix (The Avalanches’ Since I Left You), or there can be startling shifts throughout (Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). This album implements both methods, and each track change is justified. “Shall” to “We” makes for a jostling introduction without a break, while “We” to “Go” is also without a break but is barely noticeable without your listening device telling you when the track changed. The appearance of silence at the start of “On” becomes something to take note of because the album has already succeeded in training you to listen to every shift. It’s great to hear albums that intelligently consider this even when skipping a track has become easier than ever.
The album’s flow peaks with the final half, which runs as a mini-suite. The piano that begins “So” stays in remnants until the end, and the result is absolutely entrancing as Daniel’s ability to manipulate subtle changes in the mix is spotlighted. It peaks in “Grace” with a pent-up release that was about 37 minutes in the making. An intensity in sound appears that will leave you gobsmacked, but it won’t work unless you’ve listened to everything before it. The album lends itself for you to expect a payoff but not quite like this; it’s impressive, to say the least.
The album came about as Daniels questioned what type of music felt right for this moment. The Trump presidency has startled many into self-reflection and activism, and this has come through often in protest music. The associative emotion with protest music is what Daniels pondered on, and he went against rage – not altogether but just from his viewpoint as a white male. Shall We Go on Sinning then becomes an album of anti-rage – not necessarily peace but a recognition of turmoil and finding solace in what is still left to find joy in: community and music. May it keep going on.