Shmu recycles his way into making a great, glitched-out album

by Bram Howard


Shmu is more or less the one-man-band project of Sam Chown.  With a healthy dose of Shoegaze, a smattering of glitched-out Electronica, and mind bending Psychedelia, you start to get an idea of what Shmu’s sound is about.  On Shmu’s website, Chown calls his process “recycling,” as he takes samples and recordings and “disassembles, and reassembles” them.  What you get is massive sound collages that explode in variety, but still cohere to form poppy and tripped out melodies.  This all coming from one individual is quite impressive, and the whole concept comes across great on Shmu’s most recent album Shhh!!!!

At the core of a lot of what’s going on here are the pitch-bending, glide melodies of Shoegaze.  Tracks like “Pictionary” feature roaring, prominent guitar tones over buzzing, simplistic melodies.  The roaring drone will seemingly switch off suddenly to fixate on fun, early 2000s-esque guitar melodies that hang out just below the surface of everything.  Then tracks like “Come Into My Arms” feature lazily meandering guitar work that buzzes along like you might hear on Loveless, but around this is a backdrop of glittering electric tones and jagged, CD-skip glitch breaks that seemingly create a rhythm and sound of their own.

These “glitches” and electric blends of sound are featured heavily in their own right as songs in and of themselves.  “Sensory Glitch” has a sort of breakbeat rhythm with sampled acoustic guitar melodies that flit in and out under vocal segments that flash about the aural space-like pieces of sound jumping in and out of existence right before your eyes (or ears, I suppose).  “I’ve Got Nothing to Show” powers along like a Place to Bury Strangers or a Bloody Knives song with pounding, perpetual drum beats, hissing, bursts of guitar fuzz, and layers and layers of different vocal sounds.  Toward the end of the song, the track seems to get jerked back-and-forth with the rhythm, like a button press is playing a segment of song, restarting at each press, creating a crooked, warping of sound.

The closer “Harmonic”, which appropriately begins with a melody of harmonics, is an almost 13-minute epic that takes you on a journey through all sorts of feelings.  The main drive of the song has fluttering drum beats and screeching guitar sounds that remind me of Math Rock on acid.  Dissonant twinkles of electric sound seem to sort of pierce or corrode the song, creating a somewhat uncomfortable, but altogether appropriate feel to everything.  The groove created here, with layers of repetitious guitar work and and an underlying, swaggering bass line, create a core around which variety upon variety of twinkling electric tones, ‘80s synth melodies, droning guitars, and ghosts of vocals just explode to create what appears to be a song.  It’s, to me, more or less what Shmu’s whole vibe is all about, and it’s a really cool sound to hear.

Really, it’s hard to encapsulate everything that’s going on with this album without writing about every single individual track separately and deconstructing what Shmu does with every sound he decides to implement.  The whole album is a masterful blend of Rock and experimental electronic sounds.  It’s an amalgamation of styles from a plethora of decades, with an altogether unique and contemporary feel to everything.  It’s an energy-fueled mass of music that still manages to somehow be ambient at the same time.  It’s a challenge to traditional music, while still sticking to tried-and-true song formats.  It’s a sick album, and one worth checking out.

Shmu will be playing at Sidewinder on January 6 during Free Week. 

Bram Howard is a music writer living in Austin, TX. He also plays in Leche.