Okay: let’s start with the incomprehensible name. Set aside the fact that the vowelless mash of letters reaches the limits of unreadability, but try and read it anyway. What do you get?
Maybe nothing. Now think back to your childhood, when neighborhood boys would sound off imitations of bombs blowing up, guns firing, missiles shooting across the sky. Say “SHXCXCHCXSH” again within this context, and the “word” becomes more of a sound effect. It’s the noise of an automobile collision; the crack of a frazzled, high-voltage wire; the rustle of sandpaper rubbing together.
This deliberate obfuscation points to the difficulty of the music itself. The more abstract the music, the harder it becomes to explain its effects. SHXCXCHCXSH, a Swedish duo, is one of these outfits, and their new album, the absurdly titled SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs (helium leaving a balloon? ), convenes on that difficulty.
To SHXCXCHCXSH (an always-capitalized name), track names are also an encumbrance. On their latest release, the track names are formulaic, in the sense that they repeat “Ss” a number of times according to its track designation. For example, track 4 is “SsSsSsSs.” This convention removes any evocation from the title and leads to the possibility that the album was arranged randomly. This nomenclature is the musical equivalent of labelling paintings “untitled” or arbitrarily according to Pantone values or street names. It also becomes tough to remember favorites.
For counterpoint, take Senking‘s “Nightbeach,” a brooding track conjuring a dim, foreboding scene at the eponymous beach. Many of Senking’s tracks accomplish a sense of mood or place by communicating through the track titles, something SHXCXCHCXSH rejects. However, SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs‘s naming convention results in a visually appealing track listing, the Ss’s growing and cascading down the album cover like a rudimentary programming exercise. SHXCXCHCXSH’s sensibilities are closer to Autechre, who have based their career on visual and aural experiments heavily relying on digital technology.
But whereas Autechre’s sound collages have explored complexity to a granular, mathematical degree, SHXCXCHCXSH chooses minimalism, exemplified with tracks like #8 (pardon me for not typing a string of Ss’s) comprised almost completely of a beating drum. A more successful example is #9, which approaches a level of interest by providing an actual melody that sinks in and out of a distorted bombast of kick drum blasts. It’s much like a faraway bomb’s detonation; we’ve come full circle to our sound effect exploration. This detonation effect is used throughout the album, notably at the outset, after a warbling, ethereal opener takes us into the second track, a staticky, clattering tune surrounded by a ghostly Andy Stott chorus. The transition between tracks #4 and #5 showcase this bait-and-switch as well, to delicious effect. Track #3, a manipulated collection of loops and errant synth stabs, finds the group at its most Autechre-like.
And listen to track #11. Without much strain, you can hear the SHXCXCHCXSH sound effect in a squelching, obliterating bass kick, an imperfect sample filled with white noise and distortion – SHXCXCHCXSH’s sonic challenge that asks: Are you up for it?
SHXCXCHCXSH’s SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs is out now on the Avian label.
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Tristan Kneschke enjoys traveling to places his mother warns him about. Visit www.tristanwrites.com.