Sam Chown is back with yet another whirlwind of whimsical sounds as Shmu on his upcoming album Lead Me To the Glow (out 9/28). As co-creator of Austin electro-noise spazzes Zorch, and member of a vast, swirling nebula of various side projects, there are plenty of reference points for his diverse sound menu.
According to Chown, LMTTG is “a meditation of the last 40 years of music collapsing in on itself. I’m attempting to create a post-internet pop music, utilizing mid 80s pop and R&B sounds, early 90s vaporwave-esque muzak samples, mixed with some 70s psych/R&B & yacht-rock influences that are glitched out with modern electronics. All melded together and melted down like a burnt cassette in the sun.”
If this all sounds like the unlistenable theoretical ramblings of a music blogger on DMT, well, Chown has the track record to back up the hype. The last Shmu record, Shhh!!!!, was downloaded over three hundred and fifty thousand times and streamed over one million times in the twenty-four hours after it was released. In many ways, LMTTG is the natural next evolutionary phase of a creative mind that’s been pushing limits since its inception.
Born into the world at a full artistic sprint, Chown taught himself a variety of instruments at a very young age. As a multi-disciplinary virtuoso, the Berklee grad has steadily found new ways to combine technical ability with emotional content. As Shmu, Chown has been home recording home demos since 2003, but didn’t release a proper debut until 2009’s Discipline/Communication (reissued in 2012.) Yet long before it became an official project with a name, Chown would write, record, and catalog songs, playing all the instruments himself. He started at age four, and to date he’s amassed over 200 albums worth of material.
Since the release of Shhh!!! (late 2015 via GTZ Records) Chown has been the personification of torrential creativity. There is Private Life, a collaboration with Chris King of This Will Destroy You. AYBA 440, his collaboration with poet Thax Douglas and Zac from Zorch. Chown has also joined noisy, prog-punk supergroup The Dialtones along with Lauren Gurgiolo (Octopus Project, Okkervil River) Raquel Bell, and Karla Manzur (Alejandro Escovedo), and is hard at work on a Zorch record, as well as a record with THORCH, the bands collaboration with Thor Harris, former percussionist of Swans, Bill Callahan, Shearwater and current Texas gubernatorial candidate.
While Shhh!!!! (released in late 2015 via GTZ Records) was predominately a solo effort, LMTTG represents a shift in the creative dynamic. While Chown still plays most of the instruments on the album, this records marks a new openness to collaboration. “I guess the more records I make, the more I have a desire to collaborate,” relates Chown. “I really wanted to shed my ego by letting go of having a set idea of how things should be, by involving other voices and opinions into the process.” Chase Dungan plays most of the lead guitar, and the record features performances by Joel Coronado on bass, Grammy winner Mark ‘Speedy’ Gonzales (Grupo Fantasma) on trombone, Thomas Van der Brook (Minor Mishap) on saxophone, Derek Phelps (Black Joe Lewis) on trumpet, and Carrie Bickley (Calliope Musicals) and Chown’s longtime friend Brittany Drake performed guest vocals.
Thematically, LMTTG is as straightforward as one would expect from Chown. The record begins with a multicolor burst of creativity, segues at midpoint into an exploration the end of our Universe, then transitions into a meditation on rebirth, the afterlife and infinity. It traces an archetypal hero’s journey from our current troubled times, through the looking glass into something akin to Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity; everything feels much faster and faster, and glowing rainbows are the most boring thing from our pre-transhuman past that anyone cares to remember.
“I think the album is a unique piece,” says Chown. “I’ve heard artists like Ariel Pink imply vaporwave-y aesthetics in pop music contexts, and there are plenty of amazing artists like Keith Rankin/Giant Claw (who did the artwork) doing post vaporwave collages. This record though is a combination of post-internet vaporwave aesthetics utilizing sampling techniques used as a backdrop to write honest to God songs.”
Glide is proud to premiere the title track from the new album, a kaleidoscope of sounds that creates its own new musical dimension with unique beats, keyboard flourishes and all around musical ingenuity. Like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Shmu squeezes eras of rock and indie history into a digestible compact song offering that is both intellectual and danceable.
This title track can be interpreted as being about death or it could be interpreted as what it feels like to have an out of body experience, as well as exploring the boundlessness of time in the afterlife – and there’s an implied choice, between staying in this state or coming back to earth whether it be through reincarnation or astral projection,” says Chown. “Ultimately this is a song about letting go and the glow itself is a representation of existence on a different realm such as the afterlife. This song is a representation of the theme of the whole record: holographic universe travel, the afterlife, death, rebirth, reincarnation, God, the perceived finiteness of relationships and creation.”