The Herd - Future Shade (2011 LP)

The Herd are back with their 5th album, released in the middle of their tenth year together. It's been a decade, and it shows - in a purely good way, rest assured. Since “Scallops” and their self titled debut, The Herd have audibly matured and grown. Future Shade is an album that perfectly balances politics, social issues and personal issues and is one of The Herd's most accomplished releases to date.

Future Shade covers a spectrum of issues, from abuse to loss to inequality and everything in between. Every song, no matter the topic, makes you think. I've been listening to the album on repeat for over a week now, and there are two songs in particular that are stand outs – they have made me cry every time I've listened to them. The first is “My Sister's Palace”, a song chronicling the impacts of child abuse – focused on the effects of abuse on a 10 year old girl. The second is my favourite of the record, “Shihaba”.

“Shihaba” is the true story of Traksewt's sister, and the discrimination she experienced when holidaying to Europe – she wasn't allowed into Glasgow simply based on her appearance. Her narrative is told with such raw emotion, and the dramatic orchestral backing only increases the tension. With lines like: 'You need clear eyes to see it/The reason to believe in the good in everyone even when looks are deceiving/We're all living breathing real life flesh and blood...', it is an anti-discrimination anthem and while it is very emotional, it ignites hope inside you with the chorus: 'Even if I swear life isn't fair in a song/There's more than part of me hoping that I'll be proved wrong...'. It is such a great mixture of hope, emotion, compassion and passion wrapped up into one brilliant song.

Both these tracks, and honestly most of the other songs on the album, paint a vivid picture of the situations they are portraying. They reel you in so deep that you feel you are the subject of the song, and somehow they make you understand and feel the emotions of the protagonists. I don't know how The Herd do it, but it is most certainly an art rarely mastered.

The band have also stuck to their traditional outspoken political roots with songs like “Red Queen Theory” that mentions asylum seekers, detention centres and the Malaysia solution; “Spin Cycle”, the opening track features the line: 'There is no old Tim/There is no new Tim/There is just Tim' referencing the Labor Party 'New Julia' campaign strategy. “Salary Cap” is another notable song highlighting the issue of pay inequality and discrimination based on race, marital status and socio-economic background. Each song has an important message to be conveyed, and these messages are communicated clearly.

The lyrics of each song are so important, and are obviously the main focus – however, the music is astounding too. The beats and bass are solid, unifying the words and accompaniment, and then there are countless layers underneath the vocals on each songs. It's the embellishments that make The Herd stand out; the little clarinet flourish here, the flute arpeggio there. No matter how little they feature in the music, their part in making it sound as good as it does is huge. In a lot of modern hip hop, you'll find that the accompaniment is similar in each song – contrary to this, The Herd are constantly changing instrumentation, key signature and structure to keep each song interesting, and to set the mood – and they do it perfectly.

I don't think I can put my feelings for this album into words and do it complete justice, so this is my attempt: all I can say is that you will not regret buying this album, and the issues it brings up will stick with you forever. The Herd are one of Australia's most prominent hip-hop outfits, and rightly so. After a decade together they are stronger than ever and have succeeded in making one of the best Australian albums of the year – and personally, one of the best albums I have ever heard.

Review Score: 10/10