death's dynamic shroud
Death's dynamic shroud have always been curious about what we can't see. "Like when I was a child," says member Tech Honors, "I was obsessed with wanting to know what was on the other side of the flagpole at the end of a Mario level." Honors, James Webster, and Keith Rankin have long made music that explores that sense of wonderment—emotional, experimental electronic work that fill gaps between the known and unknown. Consequently, their art feels less like songs and more like lovingly crafted immersive worlds. Full of richly textured layers of sound—ranging from chopped vocal samples and gleaming synths to spectral drums and ringing video game effects—their music draws unsuspecting listeners into a place that’s simultaneously murky and neon, somber and playful. You feel a sense of new adventure, with a curious pang of déjà vu.
The vastness of death’s dynamic shroud’s wide-eyed world-building is evident in their upcoming album, which they describe in characteristically visual and abstracted terms. “It’s black and chrome, and sterile in an untouched way,” Honors explains. “But with big bursts of color.” Lead single “Judgment Bolt,” for example, braids fiery explosions of heavy, grinding bass with a distorted, sand-whipped string interlude that they compare to wandering the desert. “Even with standard pop arrangements within the album, there will be these breakdowns inside of them as if someone spilled acid on the track and it's just kind of melting on the table,” says Webster. “We always want to do something that's not like anything anyone's ever heard before.”
Death’s dynamic shroud thrive on the unconventional. Though Webster, Honors, and Rankin share the moniker, they often make music separately or in pairs, mixing and matching combinations to create different outcomes. As Webster puts it, “It helps all of us create a more varied and exciting project if we don't care about who's taking the credit for doing what.” The new album—an LP accompanied by two 12" EPs and a companion animation film—will be not only be their first for Fuglestadphotography, but their first fully collaborative set since 2017.
Founded in 2014, death’s dynamic shroud was initially a vaporwave project. The genre’s sample-heavy approach provided the group a playground to contort existing sounds to their maximalist limits. As self-described “composition nerds,” they pulled from other inspirations too, including the Beatles’ chord progressions, Nine Inch Nails’ eerie soundscapes, Pink Floyd’s psychedelia, the epic Final Fantasy RPG series, and anime. Each member brings a specialty: Rankin’s innate bass-wrangling ability, Honors’ pop sensibility, and Webster’s experimental songwriting structure all keep each other in balance. In the group’s first year, they released 11 mixtapes of painstakingly curated material in which samples of TV shows, Top 40 radio hits, and video game sound effects crash, corrode, and meld into each other, taking on a life of their own.
Their 2015 album, I’ll Try Living Like This, established death’s dynamic shroud as standouts in the vaporwave community. Very few of their peers were sampling modern music, but the group turned their curiosity toward contemporary K-pop, stretching vocals into longing, melancholy croons caged by metallic clangs and molten synths. Eventually, death's dynamic shroud outgrew vaporwave’s roots and aimed to create music with more sincerity and romanticism, and less reliance on samples. Their 2017 album, Heavy Black Heart, whose title was inspired by an emoji, touches on the joy and fear of aging: a timely subject as its creators hit their 30s.
Then came the NUWRLD Mixtape Club in late 2020—an innovative return to the project’s early unbridled creativity wherein various iterations of death’s dynamic shroud drop a mixtape every month to paying subscribers. This space between “mainline” albums, as Honors calls them, gives death's dynamic shroud an outlet to keep their juices flowing—via aquatic experimental jams, vocal soft rock, and everything in between. Every effort was striking in its own way, but 2021’s Faith in Persona won the hearts of curious listeners. Its mutant pop songs and cosmic electronic sojourns even earned it an 8/10 from The Needle Drop. These releases ultimately offered space for the group to stretch out, to discover who they are both alone and together.
Their upcoming album holds that answer. For the first time since Heavy Black Heart, all three members contributed to every song, which to them represents a new chapter—alongside the fact that they’ve teamed with Fuglestadphotography, who also started off releasing vaporwave, then transcended it. This set finds the group further exploring unknown realms, focusing on original composition, songwriting, and vocals, as well as delving deeper into prog rock and traditional pop. And, of course, they’ve utilized some well-placed samples (including soap operas) to help drive the album’s concept, an exploration of “love as a social construct, or as the fabric of the universe, or as not existing,” as Webster puts it. Once again, death’s dynamic shroud work to chart what we can’t see but—more than ever—can feel. And to hear them tell it, they feel it too. To Webster, this era boils down to one salient fact: “There’s more of us in this than ever before.”