Ads Top

HXXS - Channeler

HXXS. Photo by Annie Nelson.
HXXS (pronounced "hexes") is the Kansas City based experimental music duo of West Coast transplants Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves. I give you this straightforward introduction despite having written about the pair on multiple occasions. Though they played semi-frequent local gigs before the pandemic and maintain a fairly active Twitter account, HXXS still functions as something of an island. This can likely be chalked up to the fact that they didn't grow up here, they toured across the country frequently and were only rarely home until recently, and the amount of time they've spent writing and recording when they have been home is daunting. I'm also mystified at how they've never been covered by indie scene tastemakers like Pitchfork and The Needle Drop when the band is clearly right up their alley (and has released two records via Captured Tracks which featured contributions from members of Liars and TV On The Radio).

Colleene and Neves don't allow the snubs and honest-to-goodness ignorance affect their output though. Following a handful of less formal pandemic-era releases (collections of b-sides and covers among other things) comes Channeler. In my brief correspondence with the band via email ahead of its release, they disclosed that the songs were (to what extent I am not sure) improvised and recorded live (aside from contributions made by musicians outside of the band). That list of collaborators is something of a dream lineup for fans of experimental music (particularly those acquainted with Kansas City's scene) and includes vocals from Moor Mother (a prolific solo artist and a collaborator of Billy Woods), percussion and woodwind from Thor Harris (formerly of Swans), saxophone from Zak Pischnotte (a collaborator of both Chris Hazelton and Dorian Electra), drums from Jorge Arana, and raps from Bodye (Martinez Hillard of Ebony Tusks). And while it would be more than easy to lean on these highly talented pals as a crutch, I don't think anyone could make a convincing case for that here.

So alright -- enough about snubs and collaborators. On to the music album that is Channeler. If you're at all familiar with HXXS, the sonic palette being used here isn't new to you. The jarring, clattering electronic drum style that Colleene utilized on Year Of The Witch (think somewhere between early Sleigh Bells and Death Grips) is present, as are the half-shouted, half-whined vocal style the pair hold dearly -- these may as well be trademarked by the group. Also making a return are the often witchy, occasionally Biblical lyrical imagery. Being a record with a focus on improvisation, the composition style is what has been adjusted the most from past outings. HXXS never relied too heavily on verse-chorus-verse structure, but the band's use of both mantra-like chants and first-person, stream of consciousness lyricism see an uptick. Where some bands' live albums sound essentially like studio recordings with applause piped in, Channeler feels as though you're in the room (or maybe a forest or some other mystical realm), carrying out a ritual right alongside Neves and Colleene, especially on songs like the primal, anxious "Careful What U Wish 4."

"Deja Vu," early on in the tracklist, features some of the most quiet, vulnerable moments Colleene has put to record yet, spliced together with blasts of noise at random to create an exceptional level of tension and unease. "Starve" is as off-kilter as a song can be while still qualifying as catchy. On "Peter, Bjorn & John The Baptist," the duo and jazz fusion/math rock pro Arana achieve levels of chaos usually reserved for genres that end in -core. "First Responder" recreates with precision the lightning speed at which anxiety travels through the body in a moment of trauma or heightened adrenaline. Both this song and "Wormtongue" channel the spastic no wave of subgenre pioneer James Chance.


The album ends with "King Solomon's Frogs," a track named after the time-shifting relics from the Black Panther comic books. Half the song's lyrics are "I'm losing track of time" and "I'm losing my mind" -- a feeling easy enough to relate to. Despite several moments of screaming and frantic drum hits, most of the track is serene; as beautiful as any other moment HXXS has created. The album is dedicated to six different musicians and friends of the band who have died over the last year and a half. If I can make an assumption about this closing track, one thing it's trying to communicate is that sometimes you have to be the one to conjure love and beauty, because the world around you likely won't do you any favors and those precious feelings can be snatched away at the drop of a hat.

Stream or purchase the album below and see HXXS live tonight with Armand Hammer and Midwestern at The Bottleneck. Click here for tickets.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.