Shmu is back and still sounds like 10 of your favorite bands all playing on top of each other


To say Shmu‘s Sam Chown likes to make densely layered music is akin to saying that Jackson Pollack liked to spatter paint occasionally. His just-released third album, Lead Me to the Glow, isn’t quite as kaleidoscopic as Shhh!!!!, the 2015 masterpiece of organized chaos that first brought him to our attention here at TWBITW. But in places, it still sounds like a music festival with a killer lineup and way too much bleed between stages.

“Hololeaps” is yacht rock capsized by a chillwave tsunami; “All Will Be Erased” starts out like a small army of broken tape decks simultaneously eating the collected solo works of every member of Animal Collective (plus a TLC cassingle) before veering into full-blown prog-rock territory. There’s humor, too; “Your Favorite God” features a heavenly pre-recorded phone greeting: “You’re about to be connected to a special god! Your call is very important to us!”

Chown describes the album as a “combination of post-internet vaporwave aesthetics utilizing sampling techniques used as a backdrop to write honest to God songs.” I’m not sure what the hell that means, but trust me, it translates to an awesome listening experience.

Lead Me to the Glow is available via Bandcamp, as is the rest of Shmu’s mind-expanding catalog. For a taste, here’s that aforementioned yacht rock tsunami, “Hololeaps.” (Note the killer album art, too, but Giant Claw’s Keith Rankin.)




Though they douse our inbox daily with a firehose of awful, mainstream crap, music publicists aren’t all bad. Occasionally they serve up something truly bizarre, like Shmu, a cut-and-paste solo project from Austin-based musician (and occasional Flaming Lips collaborator) Sam Chown that sounds like 10 different bands playing on top of each other at the same time — because that, essentially, is what you’re hearing.

Chown, who’s originally from Toronto and studied music at Berklee, also makes delightfully spazzy electro-noise-rock as the drummer half of the duo Zorch. As Shmu, he makes music that is at once more accessible and more abstract. At their heart, Shmu songs are shoegaze-y dream-pop; Chown cites My Bloody Valentine as an influence, although only inasmuch as he, like Kevin Shields, is fascinated with the happy harmonic accidents that happen when you keep layering sound on top of sound to the point where the human ear can no longer distinguish all the individual parts.

Here’s a good example of Chown in full-blown sensory overload mode. Listening to this on repeat kind of makes you feel like you’re having the world’s happiest seizure.

To achieve his “Tomorrow Never Knows” as remixed by The Field sound, Chown records multiple versions of the same track and then edits and layers them all together. Sometimes, when he doesn’t like where one song is heading, rather than scrap it entirely, he just mashes snippets of it into whatever he decides to do next. “Many [songs] even contain performances of me playing samples live that are samples of scrapped songs or of other entire songs — I’m performing a performance of a performance,” he says in that press release we somehow rescued from our inbox last week.

He applies the same technique to recording other musicians, as well. Shmu’s latest album, SHHH!!!!, is mostly him on the all instruments, but there are some additional guitars and bass and even a string quartet buried in there somewhere. On for one of the album’s coolest tracks, “Flutes,” he had two flautists play the same piece of music into five sets of microphones on five different delay pedals, then mixed the results together.

SHHH!!!! is Chown’s second Shmu album; the first one, 2012’s Discipline/Communication, is way less mental, but still worth checking out. It’s especially interesting to hear how the track “Turpentine” off that debut gets reimagined as a swirling, shoegaze guitar freakout on SHHH!!!!

We’ll leave you with the most ambitious track on SHHH!!!!, a 12-minute jam called “Harmonic” that closes out the album with a hurricane of Brian Chippendale-like drums, glitchy electronics and the epic post-rock sensibilities of fellow Austinites Explosions in the Sky. If this doesn’t convince you that Chown is something special, stop reading this blog and go buy the new goddamn Adele album.