Years before they formed the Drain Gang collective, Ecco2k and Bladee were in a hardcore band called Krossad (“crushed” in Swedish) as schoolmates. This fun fact has become part of the Stockholm group’s narrative: their noisy 2007 demo CD has been ripped and uploaded online, and fan pages regularly post pictures of the two artists as kids, wearing patched and studded leather jackets, the sides of their heads closely shaved.
The spirit of that early experimentation—as well as the abrasiveness of his 2015 instrumental EP, Crush Resist—lives on in PXE (read: pixie), Zak Arogundade’s latest project as Ecco2k. He produced every sound on the five-song EP, and many of its individual elements are easy to pinpoint from his past: his distorted guitar on “Jalouse” is reminiscent of Krossad’s rudimentary instrumentation, the same haunting synths that ran through Crush Resist appear on “Big Air.” And the sweet falsetto that’s made him stand out, both next to collaborators and on his own, balances out this project’s more metallic textures. Woven together, with glitchy stops and starts that attract and repel, PXE sounds like an exciting and exploratory new direction, over the course of a fleeting 10 minutes.
Much of Ecco2k’s recent music explores the tension and beauty of living in his own skin. On E, his long-awaited 2019 debut album, he sang about learning to embrace his Blackness in an overwhelmingly white country: “Why are you scared of me when I’m not so hard?/No peroxide, I stay dark.” This self-discovery mirrored a broader shift, as he stepped out from his role as a mysterious behind-the-scenes creative force and became an artist in his own right. It’s fitting then that the first intelligible lyrics on PXE are, “Come out of your shell/Come into the light.”
The EP picks up on this theme of self-discovery but less topically and more viscerally. It presents a few moments of shimmering melody surrounded by distortion, ambient bleeps, and crushing bass, sometimes all in the same song. “In the Flesh,” the closest PXE comes to traditional pop, is a deceptively upbeat song about existential longing where Ecco2k wonders on the refrain, “Someone said, ‘You’ve got to get help’/And I kept asking myself, ‘Is that all there is to it?’” After acoustic guitar-picking builds into messy feedback, the final seconds of “Jalouse”’ provides one of the most striking parts of the project; he sings in an aching whisper, “More than I care to admit, I love you, I love you, love you, I love you.” These spurts of vulnerability are quickly pierced by the sharp barbs in the EP’s production, sometimes obscuring his mesmerizing vocal performances. But this contrast, and the give-and-take between confidence and insecurity that it reveals, is a big part of what makes PXE compelling.
At points, Ecco2k seems to consciously pull the listener out of the project—the ambient cassette-tape sound effect on “Jalouse” brings with it an awareness of both the song’s recording and its transmission. On streaming platforms, the EP is presented as five individual songs, but it’s best experienced as one long track, the way it appears on Drain Gang’s YouTube channel. It’s easy to imagine the project falling into the algorithm of full-album rips on that platform, which tends to privilege a specific canon of cult favorites from online forums (some fans have already compared PXE to Sweet Trip’s velocity : design : comfort, Rate Your Music’s top album of 2003). Unlike those works, PXE ends before all of its ideas can be fully fleshed out. It’s a testament to Ecco2k’s evolution as an all-around artist that it feels like there could be even more to say.
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