Two Shell – Icons
Who are Two Shell? Truth be told, that’s probably a question that won’t have any sort of satisfying answer for the foreseeable future. Here’s what we do know: the mysterious and elusive duo have risen from the London underground, dropping a string of vinyl exclusive singles and EPs. Earlier this year, their giddy and effervescent single home was touted by Pitchfork as one of the best tracks of the year. In January. Like their music, their rise onto the radars of global tastemakers and club kids alike has been hard, fast, and a bit strange. Arriving just beyond the peak of PC Music and the establishment of hyperpop as an actual thing, their sound lends itself well to the current direction of dance music. But while it may be full of hyperactive rave sounds, mechanical glitches, and ultra processed vocals, there’s a certain nostalgia to Two Shell’s sound that also places them somewhere in the not so distant past and in direct lineage to Burial, Orbison, and Overmono. Essentially, they’re adopting and subsequently reinventing the code of post-dubstep bass by pushing it into a space so fresh for the genre that it feels like the future. With their euphoric, expansive breaks and sculptural, mercurial bass, Two Shell is perhaps best described as the unlikely fusion of SOPHIE and Orbison. Their latest EP Icons, released on their own Mainframe Audio is perhaps the most definitive arrival of Two Shell and their brand of bass to date. It’s a culmination of their Livity Sound roots with their more recent bubblegum bass and hyperpop adjacent direction, combining the metallic austerity of their debut with an entire spectrum of ear candy, from blippy glitch bits to masterful vox manipulations. It’s the most forward facing bass music has sounded in ages, and for a genre that’s always been regarded as inherently futurist, that’s saying something.
Icons is an urgent EP, and Two Shell handle the dynamics of building tension masterfully. From its opening minutes, the entire thing surges forth with a consistent rising motion that never ceases. The vocal loops and blips of Ghosts keep ascending upwards so that the whole track swells, tossing you straight into the digital shredder of Pods. There’s touches of their cartoonish sense of humour on this track; be it in the AI assistant voice or the obnoxious deadmau5-esque synths that interpolate a hair metal guitar solo. On Dust, touches of their pop proclivities add colour; touches of filtered and helium pitched hooks bubble out from beneath their squelchy bass and propulsive breaks, while a hyperpop synth refrain squeals in the distance.
Most impressive is how Two Shell, intentionally or not, propose ideas of the posthuman. On standout track Mainframe, there’s someone (or something) talking through its grime adjacent breakbeats. It’s just been mutated, so much so that the human voice fuses with the metal of their machinery. The utterance is twisted into digital effect, the voice becoming putty in their hands. It’s uncanny, but wonderfully so; they’re pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as the ‘voice’, almost inventing an entirely new lexicon in the process.The result is as if Koreless decided to produce for Charli XCX; a borderline insane pastiche of vox loops and samples that either bend together with the music or lurk in its steely folds and crevices. This treatment also extends to the tropes associated with vocal hooks. On Ghosts for instance, clips of pop lyric tropes can be heard; ‘I will always love you,’ ‘we are the X generation,’ but they’re almost parodies of themselves. They’re words, stripped of any meaning beyond aesthetic effect.
In a sense, their approach to making music mirrors Two Shell’s approach to their public persona. In a way, they’re subversions of their closest cousins. Adopted by them, Burial’s cool elusiveness becomes absurd, Brejcha’s masked anonymity just a touch clown-like. Like many innovators and agitators before them, Two Shell shows us just how bizarre our lived reality really is. In a sense, they’re the post-DJ. Picking up where Total Freedom left off, they’re an act programmed for the age of the algorithm where literally everything is zooming at hyper-speed along a collision course, racing for ten seconds of an attention span. We’re in a time where effectively, everything becomes meaningless. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were to disappear as fast as they’ve arrived; their metamorphosis and sonic evolution is already racing at breakneck pace. But at least for the present moment, they’re here to show us the future. And they’re doing it with some bloody epic music.
Listen to Mainframe from Icons below.
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