Xylouris White – Mother
Bella Union – 19 January 2018
Xylouris White is the happy result of a collaboration between Australian drum legend Jim White and Cretan instrumentalist George Xylouris. White is a real musician’s musician, a founder member of Dirty Three who has played with Bill Callahan, Nina Nastasia, P.J. Harvey and Marianne Faithfull, and was last heard providing beats for last year’s Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile vehicle, Lotta Sea Lice. Xylouris is a master of the Cretan laouto, a kind of lute that resembles a long-necked oud, and is part of an impressive musical lineage: his father and two uncles were partly responsible for the popularisation of Crete’s music, and Xylouris, along with other second-generation family members, helped to create the Xylouris Ensemble, an Australia-based collective of Cretan musicians.
Mother is their third release as a duo, after Goats (2014) and Black Peak (2016), and picks up where those two critically acclaimed albums left off. The emphasis is on experimental and exploratory sounds rooted in a distinctive heritage, and the pair urge each other into increasingly more unusual musical territory, stretching but never snapping the string that binds them to the melody and structure of popular music.
The results of this experimentation may sound complex, but in creative terms, the accent is very much on simplicity. Xylouris is keen to point out that they approached the making of the album in a ‘childlike’ way, and that they sought to play their instruments like a child plays with toys. If this kind of statement downplays their individual talents somewhat, it nonetheless helps to explain the sheer flow of ideas, and the joy taken in harnessing those ideas. The album opens with a scene-setting instrumental, the appropriately-titled In Medias Res, which throws the listener straight into the wonderfully messy, off-kilter soundworld. Melodies appear and disappear within percussive clatter, curtains of noise open to reveal tightly percussive strums of lute. It is a bracing introduction.
Only Love shows the influence of speedy krautrock, Xylouris’s baritone pushing the song along at a thrilling, almost punky pace. Motorcycle Kondilies is an endearingly shambling epic with an eastern tinge, coming across like That’s The Way-era Jimmy Page jamming with post-Beatles George Harrison in a Greek taverna, the insistent lute refrain building in intensity as Xylouris’s singing becomes more impassioned. Spud’s Garden is as close to most people’s conception of folk music as the duo get: White creates a close analogue of Nigel Pegrum’s folk-rock template that acts as a perfect backdrop for one of Xylouris’s prettiest lute pieces.
The mood takes a turn for the darker with the glowering Daphne, full of empty spaces, half-whispered Greek phrases and an unnerving percussive rise and fall, while Achilles Heel is a loose growl of a song. Woman From Anogeia is perhaps the most impressive vocal performance on the album, full of longing and strength, while the freely experimental undertow of the drums keeps the song lodged in strangeness. Call And Response veers even closer to the avant-garde, before the exquisite closer Lullaby brims over with quiet emotion.
Mother is essentially the work of two very different but oddly complimentary musicians creating a brand of music that is unique and captivating. But while it is easy to focus on just how unusual this album sounds, what shouldn’t be overlooked is the overwhelming and unexpected emotional impact it carries. Mother is that rare thing: experimental music with a huge heart.
Xylouris White have also announced their upcoming UK/EU tour, which includes a residency at London’s Café Oto (details here). Full dates below.
Xylouris White Tour Dates
9th May – COPENHAGEN – Alice
12th May – OSLO – BLA
13th May – BERGEN – Utmark
22nd May – LONDON – Café Oto
23rd May – LONDON – Café Oto
24th May – BELFAST – Black Box
25th May – DUBLIN – The Grand Social