SHMU – THE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE MY BODY (ORANGE MILK RECORDS, 2021)

The latest album from Austin-based artist Samuel Chown, a.k.a. Shmu, sees him veering out into even more experimental territory – with often thrilling results.

A peek into the discography of Samuel Chown, also known as Shmu, shows a voyage of intense creativity and artistic restlessness. On past albums like Bliss, Vish, Shhh!!!!, and Discipline/Communication, Chown has embraced – among other things – psychedelia, cracked pop, brief moments of prog, and giddy vaporwave. With his latest album, he seems to have locked on to the freewheeling electronic mania that Orange Milk Records loves to champion time and time again.

This new direction suits Chown. The press materials for The Universe Is Inside My Body – released, naturally, on Orange Milk – state that Chown’s goal on this album was to try “to make organic feeling music that is influenced and contains non-organic sounds and methods.” Mission accomplished. For all of the wild, processed intensity of the album, there is definitely a light touch applied. Much of Orange Milk’s catalog includes flights of fancy so unhinged that it can sometimes be hard to get a bead on what the artist is trying to do (this is not necessarily detrimental to the music – unhinged music can be a wildly entertaining experience). Here, Chown’s compositions may be complex and dizzying, but the approach is so carefree and joyful that it’s easy to get lost in the mirth.

In fact, there’s an almost stately, deliberate feel to some of the music, starting with the first track, “Snow Arp Under the Viole(n)t Ocean.” After some brief electronic stutter steps, a subdued groove begins to lock in place. There’s a pulse running through the song, and given the right circumstances, you could even dance to it. The same could be said for the oddball jazz fusion funk of “(F-Zero Hero) Fiction as the Greatest Force,” Despite a few wild tempo changes, there’s a slick, jazzy vibe to the track.

But there are plenty of moments on the album that are much more unmoored, such as on “Sapien Simulation Theory (Meaning borne of the stories we tell each other).” This track, which features contributions from fellow Austin artist Daze of Heaven, begins the process of loading up heavily on the samples – including bits of saxophone, disembodied voices, and various unidentified squeals. But Chown doubles down with “Talking to the animals & fruits,” a track that includes lots of aquatic sampling, applause, car horns, manipulated operatic exhortations, manic laughter and telephone “hold” announcements.

Chown’s spirit of collaboration continues to bear fruit elsewhere on The Universe is Inside my Body – in addition to another track with Daze of Heaven (the dreamy closer, “biologiCastles”), he also enlists Brooklyn’s Ice Choir and fellow Orange Milk artist Euglossine for “Superhuman Desires & Sensations,” which is an engaging, retro synth-bathed shuffle that keeps melody and beat front and center while the samples are a bit more subdued. It almost seems like a perfect single for the album, despite the fact that – while it’s a lovely track – it doesn’t exactly represent the wild experimental nature of much of the album.

The Universe is Inside my Body is a vital addition to Shmu’s discography. It not only adds yet another layer to his already eclectic body of work; it’s also a highly enjoyable, undeniably giddy, and refreshingly weird voyage.

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