A Noisy Take on a Classic: a Listen to HXXS cover of Fiona Apple’s “When The Pawn…”

The Kansas City, Missouri based noise duo partners with a menagerie of other talented features to honor the great Fiona Apple.

I was introduced to HXXS and their barrage of thick analog noise when I played a Chicago basement show with them on the day before my 22nd birthday. Instantly enamored by the sheer volume of the set, I snatched up a vinyl and spent my birthday popping acetaminophen because I threw out my entire spine dancing. During the pandemic, I’ve been glad to keep in touch with Gavin and Jeannie here and there over Twitter. In addition to being incredibly creative musicians, they’re both deeply kind people who support the hell out of the independent music scene.

Noise music can be divisive to say the least. When I was presented with the concept of a full-noise cover album of “When The Pawn…” I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I was excited — I love HXXS and I love Fiona Apple. I was nervous — how were the songs going to translate to a new medium. I shouldn’t have been nervous. HXXS filled the album with discordant, disorienting, loud, delectable texture. The unbridled anger of “When The Pawn…” translates brilliantly. One of my notes as I listened through just says “fucking haunted” which sums up a lot of my thoughts (this is positive btw, I love haunted shit).

Speaking of haunted, Sadie Dupuis of “Haunted Painting” fame features on “A Mistake.” This track has new wave sensibilities, MSI brattiness, and the trademark snap, crackle, pop of HXXS. Frankly, it’s a bop. I love the plain, driving kick and the bitchy, taunting stacked vocals.

The standout track for me is “Limp”. It starts sparse, crunchy, and tense; a temper tantrum about to start. In the chorus, a battery of confrontational, angry buzzing hits breaks the tension. “Limp” is one of my favorite Fiona tracks and I was impressed by HXXS upping the rage and escalating the stress factor. Also, when else are you going to see ‘tap dancing’ as an instrument on a track?

“Limp” settles into a more gentle cover of “Love Ridden” which has beautiful guitar tone and wistful bits of radio noise. Then comes “Paper Bag,” completely and totally unhinged. There are SOPHIE-esque squishes and high-frequency squeaks. I enjoyed how HXXS alternatingly embraced and totally deviated from the source material. Everything has a detached, funhouse mirror vibe. Familiar, yet indiscernible, like neural net generated pictures.

On the back end of the album, we slide into “Fast as You Can,” which is wonky, chunky, fuzzy, sludgy, trippy. Chopped up piano runs and blown out drums punctuate the cover. Then, about halfway through, an agonized stack of voices crawl through molasses-y distortion and a jarring clean guitar before returning to the chunky content. “Fast as You Can” is the longest cover on the album, clocking in at over seven minutes, in what I’d like to think is a little tongue-in-cheek humor.

“I Know” is a shiny finish to a whirlwind of a cover album. It’s more gentle than the other tunes while still retaining a little bit of the prior chaos. HXXS honored a beautiful and influential album with their satisfying, disorienting, fuzzy sound. I encourage y’all to give this a spin especially because it’s totally FREE on Bandcamp. What is there to lose?

You can download HXXS cover of “When The Pawn…” on Bandcamp here: https://wearehxxs.bandcamp.com/album/when-the-pawn

I also thoroughly encourage y’all to support HXXS (they have a new album out July 2nd!) https://wearehxxs.bandcamp.com/music