I love being surprised. Not in that “Boo! Surprise!” jump out at you kinda way but in that pleasant, unexpected “Well I never!…this is a nice surprise”. You get the drift. Let’s take Shmu‘s debut album “Discipline/Communication” as a prime example. Shmu is the alter ego of singer/songwriter/muso Sam Chown and it is, as they say, an unexpected pleasure. I put it on after a really hard week at work and, before it kicked in, I was not especially in the mood for “something new”. But, being the good and dutiful TINAS reviewer that I am, I gave it a spin and what followed was forty minutes of real charm and, at times, joy.
Chown falls into that group of uber talented musicians who plays everything on their record because they can. At one level, you could be mistaken for thinking that this is a prime ego on display but my sense is that Chow did it because it enabled him to put all his ideas in one place, unencumbered. Not that this is some esoteric artistic endeavour either. On the contrary, “Discipline/Communication” is just packed through with open hearted and warm spirited songs.
Right from the off, “Discipline/Communication” is so jam packed with ideas and styles, it’s hard to know where to start. Opening track ‘Impressions‘ is bathed in the aural equivalent of Californian sunshine but it’s got plenty of grit to go with its almost ethereal harmony. ‘House of Stares,’ the album’s lead off track, is all jangles and jingles but not in the way that would have you peeling yourself off the walls for being so arch and annoying. Far from it, it’s a decent and inviting track. ‘Fester’ is an experimental almost proggy pop song that tries to lose itself in its own cleverness but can’t quite do it- not because its a failure but because Chown has instilled a sense of discipline across all his songwriting that reins in the widdly widdly and pulls out most of the major musical stops.
‘Peaceful Swan’ and ‘Vanitos‘ are more vignettes than fully formed songs but, again, they are decent examples of a fertile and creative imagination: there’s more going on in this record than in many bands entire careers. ‘Shadowgames’ reminds me of the more left field moments of early Foo Fighters when Dave Grohl was indulging his penchant for the psychedelic and the obtuse.
“Discipline/Communication” is one of those albums where the artist tries to hide their pop sensibility under various cloaks of obfuscation and intrigue but, at the end of the day, the melody and harmony wins out. It’s one to file under “A quiet and unexpected triumph”.