SHHE is the nom-de-musique of Scottish-Portuguese artist and producer Su Shaw, who’s operating out in similar territory to Wales’s wonderful Kelly Lee Owens, maybe even Montreal’s Braids: that is, complex, cerebral, feminine vocal electronica, straddling with ease torch song and techno, marrying these forms in ever-expanding patterns.
She released her self-titled debut for One Little Independent last year, which includes the dramatic and textural excellence of tracks like “BOY” and “Saint Cyrus”. Her music is thoughtful, seeking and has that thrill of new directions.
She’s decided to offer that debut to the world once more, this time via the medium of a download-only collection of reworkings and collaborations, Re:, which is out now. She’s called upon the services of a select half-dozen other artists from across Europe and beyond who love toying with sound, including Germany’s Carsten Nicolai, perhaps better known as microtonal genius Alva Noto; and the Berlin-based self-styled exponent of “mercy-less house”, rRoxymore, among others.
SHHE has always been keen to explore identity; that debut is filled with introspection lent widescreen scope through her production and sonic chops. Re: gives her further chance to dissect and explore her first body of work by gazing back at it through the lenses of others. Each of the six tracks also comes with an added visual dimension, further expanding the media of her work. We’ve embedded two herein for you: the Alva Noto take on “BOY”, and Sophie Loizou’s brilliant reworking of “Maps.”
Su explains: “The idea of identity in motion is something that I’m interested in exploring. The idea that we are always changing, always in transition, nothing is one thing or the other. We wanted to revisit a similar idea for the visuals.
“Instead of individual videos for each track, Tommy [Perman, who also takes on one of the remixes] and I wanted to make a visual for the duration of the album, something that could accompany and would encourage people to watch and listen to the album in full.
“All of the visuals were filmed over the last year, in different locations, and all of the artists who were involved with the project were based across different locations too. That they had a chance to inform the music with their own identity, their own environment, felt important.
“There’s a feeling of impermanence, a constant shift and reshape, everything is in motion. It’s not entirely obvious what the images represent but that was the point – everything is up for interpretation. Perceptions, perspectives, parallels.
“The film was made by myself and Tommy during the last few months, at a time of anxiety and uncertainty for a lot of people. We wanted to create something that felt meditative, that offers some form of release. Something you can sit down with and lose yourself in.”
And it’s certainly a set of remixes that achieves that meditative aspect, while never losing sight of the beats. It’s rRoxymore who takes the first dance, bringing glitches and electro steel to “Eyes Shut”, breaking the original vocal to a drifting dub, disembodied. Her beats palette clatters and then caresses. There’s just the faintest suggestion of chords and melody, and the vocal line transmutes into a chopped-up extra percussive node. It’s stripped right back, but not so much as it kills the essential song underlying. It’s a shadowy and oddly romantic study: off-kilter future pop.
Tommy Perman, SHHE’s close collaborator, softens the edges on his mix of “Saint Cyrus”. Herein Su’s voice is a spectral presence, akin to Grouper; the earthing comes from a beat like an axe chop, slicing across the dreaminess. Little harpsichordalike flourishes interject. Imagine “The Box” by Orbital if it had a dreamscape suite and you’re halfway there.
“Emma” is given over to Hebridean producer Makeness, who’s released full-lengthers on Secretly Canadian and worked with Kero Kero Bonito. He gives the track a nicely 90s’ Warp-style bounce, all thrum and highly braced snares, flooding with tonal warmth, panning synth drone and chatter. It makes your lip curl satisfyingly.
Black Taffy, outta Dallas, seizes upon the confessional candour of “Beds” and makes of it a ghostly hallucination of a thing, woozy and perfectly imperfect, sound sources decaying and dropping over the lightest of breaks. He adds his vocal line, which lends a very 2020 Ariel Pink meets Boards of Canada sleepscape vibe.
Alva Noto, who produced such enthralling glitchscape and piano collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamato a decade or more back, brings an open and shadowy rerub of “BOY”: SHHE’s original vocal is aquatic, fades up a notch, with little glitches, a thunderous kick drum resonating. It’s dark, almost dream pop, in its effect; and the closing Sophia Loizou take on “Maps” is a luscious essay in layered ambience, a barely suppressed epic quality finally flowering with the suggestion of, the exoskeleton of, jungle propelling it on, like a fantastic track you’d maybe only hear in that nightclub in your REM state late at night, eyes wide shut.
Re: confirms SHHE as a great Scottish talent whose musics lend to steaming and bending into pretty new shapes. As mentioned heretofore, there’s a couple of artists working out in the sound forges where she is; but there’s a lot of room for music this good.
SHHE’s Re: is available now as a digital download from One Little Independent, here.