Bromfield: SHXCXCHCXSH revives witch-house aesthetics for actual house music

SHXCXCHCXSH didn’t exactly make it easy for themselves — just look at their name. Yet this isn’t the first time we’ve seen unpronounceable names in electronic music. The witch house movement of the early ’10s was full of vowelless or symbol-filed monikers, from (///▲▲▲\) to †‡†.  Those acts adopted a similarly dark image to SHXCXCHCXSH, and likewise cloaked their identities behind a veil of photo blur and Internet mystique. But the sound of witch house has long outlived its aesthetic mischief, and for a group in 2014 to bring the latter back takes balls.

That they’re not actually playing witch house music helps, though they might have been saddled with that term had it not been previously used to describe a form of music with very little to do with house. SHXCXCHCXSH play a form of warped dance music with traces of dub and industrial music that wouldn’t be inaccurate to categorize as “house.” Unlike the slow-paced genre that is witch house, SHXCXCHCXSH’s music thuds along pretty standardly in the 120-130 BPM range, occasionally dropping the beat entirely and taking on the guise of straight-up ambient.

Unlike witch house, there’s nothing explicitly scary about SHXCXCHCXSH or the songs on their new full-length Linear S Decoded. They seem like goofy people with a healthy love of trolling their audience — if their “explanation” of how to pronounce their name is any indication. Furthermore, their music is hard-edged but never deliberately difficult or jarring. There’s little melody but a lot of mystery, and they wield implacable synth and drum sounds with the atmosphere-conjuring wizardry of ambient artists. You’re never quite sure if you’re listening to something diurnal or nocturnal, organic or mechanical.

Though this can make for intriguing listening at times, it also makes it difficult to gauge the ideal situation for putting on Linear S Decoded. The fact that a number of other genre-bending dance albums of a similar ilk have been made recently means listeners might be tempted to put on any number of those in its stead. Untold’s Black Light Spiral is more terrifying, while Actress’s four albums are more stoner-friendly and the band’s dub-techno antecedents Basic Channel and Loscil are better for explicitly ambient listening.

At the moment, SHXCXCHCXSH’s purpose and direction doesn’t seem clear beyond their aesthetic. Luckily, the duo’s appeal isn’t entirely tied to their name and image, and Linear S Decoded is a promising introduction an electronic duo with a profound mastery of sound and texture. Yet promising is the keyword here, and if SHXCXCHCXSH has anything insightful to add to the current electronic music conversation, we’ll likely have to wait a while before we hear it.

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