To call George FitzGerald anything but an expert when it comes to soulful, R&B-infused garage would certainly be a misstatement. But with the release of his fourth single this year (and second for Hotflush), the question has moved beyond the simple existence of the Londoner's skills as a producer in the current UK post-everything/bass-music scene to whether or not his style can evolve further. With the Shackled EP, we begin to search for the answer and come up with this far-from-resounding conclusion: yes, kind of.
The title track (which also serves as the EP's opening cut) finds FitzGerald where he's most comfortable—chopping pitched vocal samples over melancholy chords. The tune is as precise, futuristic, and dancefloor-ready as any of the producer's work to date, even adding some tuned toms to song's seven-minute run, giving the affair a little extra bounce. It's a solid track, but one that could have easily been at home on any of his releases with its familiar breakdowns, build-ups, and tension-building filter sweeps.
The next two cuts see FitzGerald moving slightly into unfamiliar territory, beginning with "Feel Like," which utilizes a catchy organ melody and straightforward clap pattern to drive the housey prodcution. Of course, there's a sprinkling of vocal chops to be heard here, but they certainly aren't the focus, serving instead as markers amongst the continuously moving arrangement. To its credit, "Feel Like" never fully drops, always teetering on the edge of some giant dancefloor smash but never giving in, leaving the listener with a rewarding sense of anticipation. The EP's closer, "Friends In High Places," again takes a small step outside of Fitzgerald's comfort zone and folds some Midwest-inspired techno vibes into the mix while featuring only one dubbed-out vocal phrase. The song is slow to build, methodically adding a distant clap here and a blurping synth there as it patiently churns along. Eventually, FitzGerald breaks "Friends In High Places" down to only a lush, expanding array of pads which pile on top of each other until the beat returns, stripped back but still pushing at its steady pace.
In truth, there's nothing to object to on the Shackled EP—this is FitzGerald staying true to his reputation as one of the most dependable producers to emerge from the London scene. But as he continues to add releases to his discography, the differences between his separate pieces of work have become harder to distinguish. As long as he continues pushing his sounds a little further with each outing, like he does here (even if it is by the slightest amount), the results are worth keeping a close eye on.