Under Review

Under Review: Chaos Butterfly, x/o

Nathan Chizen-Velasco

On their latest release, x/o understands navigating binaries as if it were a perfectly quantifiable science. If there is an opposition that exists, the Vancouver-based, Vietnamese-Canadian artist will tackle it head-on like some great beast that needs to be slain. But rather than silencing it once and for all, x/o would rather get to the root of the issue, exploring it and using it as a tool for better understanding themselves.

Chaos Butterfly, x/o’s sophomore album, feels as if it emerged directly from 2018’s Cocoon Egg. Like its predecessor, there are fleeting moments of soothing ambience that serve to be usurped by industrial clangs and pounding bass. Its opening track, “Chrysalis Wrath” begins with soft sloshes and gentle murmurings. Reminiscent of the academic and artistic stylings of Montreal’s YlangYlang in these nascent moments, x/o quickly rejects the traditional stylings of experimental music (if there even are any). Piano notes are soon punctured by electric drum sounds alongside fuzzed-out synths that make up a large portion of the LP’s instrumentation. Using the lens of experimental music to explore the complexities of one’s own being through genre and conflicting sounds is a wholly fitting move on x/o’s part, and one that results in an incredibly rewarding listen.

Chaos Butterfly’s push-pull sounds morph consistently over the album’s eleven tracks, merging them into a mix that knows when to blend and when to separate. Its sonar landscape oscillates between acoustic and electronic, gentle and violent, natural and artificial, all to a technically impressive extent. With each of its generic inspirations and sonic inclusions, the result is a textured mosaic of trip-hop, industrial, ambient, and emo pop. 

“Mirror Shard, Phoenix Down,” which appears nine tracks into the album, finally marks the arrival of an acoustic melody. Whereas pianos and drums earlier were blessed with artificial echos and loops, the six strings employed on the track remain unadulterated, resulting in a comforting respite for the album’s second half. This is the moment where the album reaches its emotional zenith, merging comfort and harshness into a perfectly balanced blend. Catharsis cannot exist without the catalyst that is pain, a matter which x/o seems to know all too well.

Rather than eschewing styles in a continuing metamorphosis, x/o understands that change is building upon what works, and evolving what doesn’t. Binaries require two halves, and existing between them is what the x/o masterfully explores in Chaos Butterfly’s roughly half-hour runtime. It’s self-reflection without pity, and celebration without narcissism.

Chaos Butterfly is dichotomy done right.