Photo: Brett Naucke / Hausu Mountain

Mukqs Shatters Electronic Music Conventions on ‘Stonewasher’

Chicago-based weirdo pioneer Mukqs returns with one of the best electronic albums of 2023. Enter the dizzyingly immersive world of Stonewasher.

Hausu Mountain
22 September 2023

In the spirit of Mukqs’ uncompromisingly fearless album Stonewasher, it feels fitting to cut to the chase at the beginning of this article to say that anyone who is reading this who is even a little interested in experimental, electronic-based music should urgently be getting their hands on just about anything that gets released on the Chicago based label, Hausu Mountain. Co-run by Max Allison (the sole member of the music project known as Mukqs) and Doug Kaplan, who also released an incredible new album this year as MrDougDoug, the label has paved the way for a particular brand of irreverent, often extremely psychedelic approaches to experimental music that feels refreshingly unpretentious.

When people hear the word “noise”, they might think of people sitting at tables packed with bizarre electronics making ear-splitting unchanging sheets of TV static sounds at an audience for an hour. This is not the brand of noise the Hausu Mountain seems to pedal in. The label seems more geared toward lulling you into a familiar musical genre or form and then deconstructing it almost to the point of un-recognizability. Whether it be the exploded Footwork, jazz of Moth Cock, the maximalist emo, classical experiments of Fire-Toolz, or the video game soundscapes of Grimes collaborator D’Eon, the participants of this collective all seem to be united in a mission of taking known forms to bizarre, and unpredictable heights.

On Stonewasher, Mukqs seems to have set out to make something abstract like noise music or free jazz, but instead of showing up with broken horns and circuit-bent synths, Mukqs arrived with a box of pop songs, DJ dance party bangers, and, of course, a few new age records. Mukqs shatters, cuts up, and rearranges these once harmonious sounds into something that resembles more naturalistic. It’s as if the listener is running through traffic, and every car that whizzes by is playing a different pop beat or vocal sample.

The mammoth opening track “A Length of Hair” is the perfect example. Haunted voices and swirling science fiction noises spiral into what feels like a storm. A lull calls to mind a piano meandering that might be found on a new-age record you’d find at a yoga studio. It’s music that might call to mind the electronic nostalgia journey man Oneohtrix Point Never, but Mukqs goes further into places his releases, especially his more recent releases, seem fearful to go. Oneothrix seems to stare in the pool of this mode of sound and wonder while Mukqs dives in head first. 

What follows the seven-minute opener almost feels like a sly and sarcastic apology to those who might be confused by the initial assault. Here is a track that doesn’t even hit the three-minute mark. Surely, this will be more easily digestible, perhaps even Mukq’s attempt at a single, but this song that bares the mysterious title “Truck-Kun” provides no respite and, if anything, brilliantly hammers home the arbitrary nature of time and how one experiences it while listening to a record. The “little song” moves forward with more ideas than most albums carry in their entire runtime. It’s the sound of dance vocals and beats being slowed, sped up, and then pushed down the stairs. 

Stonewasher creates a world to inhabit, and one can’t help but feel that this world is created as if in real time before our very ears might look something like the retro video game landscape that graces the cover of the album. This cover, as well as the covers of many of the label’s releases, was created by Mukqs Max Allison himself, and this cohesive aesthetic truly puts the idea of world-building with sound to the forefront. One can’t help but hear all this and imagine being jacked into a fantasy world via some Matrix-style apparatus, walking forward through a slowly glitching pixel jungle full of temples that spark with a pagan light.

It can be easy to get lost in the world of these tracks, but one would be remiss to talk so much about the chaotic nature of this album and miss the fact that there is always a discernable core from which it all spirals. There is a center, a thing to focus upon, lose sight of, and then find again as tracks like “Dream Dropping” and “Bare Knuckle Maths” go through a sort of natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. There is almost always an ever-present wave of warm and welcoming synth sound that seems caught in a tug-of-war with the more fast-paced elements.

Like on the stunning “Uexkull” that concludes the album, every time one feels ready to embrace the fact that the style has settled into something like a Brian Eno-type tribute to sleepy time, the listener is shaken awake with another burst of LSD-tinged breakbeats. It’s a beautiful balance of narrative tension that can only be compared to the best electronic pioneers like Autechre and Aphex Twin. Stonewasher is one of the best electronic albums of 2023 and indisputably proves that the Hausu Mountain label is where the action is happening right now. This album invites you to walk into its storm, dance in its chaotic rain, and ultimately sleep as its thunder rumblings give way to a transformed, glitching sunrise.

RATING 9 / 10