You sure can’t accuse SHXCXCHCXSH of doing things halfway. There’s the title of the mysterious Swedish duo’s new album, for one: Steering clear of an obviously descriptive moniker like, say, Grey Scales or Synthetic Mire, the pair opt for a name that’s hazily evocative of arcane rituals, with the added bonus of being completely unpronounceable. The same could be said for the title of the pair’s new album—not to mention those of its individual tracks, which range from “Ss” to “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs” over the course of 15 tracks. And, of course, there’s the music itself. As with SHXCXCHCXSH’s previous two LPs—like this one, released on the Avian label, home to experimentally-inclined electronic-music artists like Shifted (who runs the imprint) and Peder Mannerfelt—it’s a rigorous, serious-minded work, awash in deeply textured patterns that range between ambient mood-pieces and outsider techno.
Listen to SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs casually, and you might get the impression that the album is nothing but a series of bleakly monochromatic soundscapes. That’s due, at least in part, to a tonal consistency that runs throughout, defined by grainy drones, creaky keyboards, synthetic choirs and a variety of distorted scrapes, thumps and wheezes. Tune in closer though, and it's clear that the duo is doing a lot with that handful of elements, largely in service of creating a mood—one that can sometimes be unsettling, at other times comforting. “SsSsSs” modulates a clonking, descending synth line, adds a pair of organ-like fragments—one stabbing, one gliding—and a few dub effects, and that’s more than enough to give a the cut a sense of gravity-fueled tension. ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs” goes in the opposite direction, with its escalating pings and spring-action echoes adding bounce to its thudding tempo. “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs” takes a similar rhythm and wraps it in Tesla-coil voltage; “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs” is a factory-floor fever-dream of a track, all magnetic hums and gear-shaft clacks; “SsSsSsSsSsSsSs” adds a quavering keyboard to that template, adding a layer of emotion that’s hard to pin down, but that’s undeniably there.
Though not quite as lithe as 2014’s Linear-S Decoded,SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs is also not as austere as SHXCXCHCXSH's 2013 debut long-player, STRGTHS—and the album is at its best when the duo opens a window, allowing a prismatic ray of sunlight to shine through. There’s an elegant melodicism that edges past the album’s murky pulses, one that seems to be reaching for a higher plane, as with opener “Ss” and its following cut, “SsSs”—their somber intonations rise and fall, lending the songs the aura of something ceremonial and solemn. Staccato rhythms punctuate the entwining synths of ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs,” while a subaquatic feel permeates “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs,” with anxious sonar signals and pulsing bass merging into something both claustrophobic and sublime; the clicking static of final track “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs” is overwhelmed by a blanket of celestial sighs. Songs like these possess something approaching a spiritual edge, one that transcends SHXCXCHCXSH’s unwieldy nomenclature and uncompromising aesthetics.
SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs is due out on June 6, and can be pre-ordered at Juno.