Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about the genre-defying, world music duo Xylouris White, comprised of Melbourne, Australia-born, New York-based drummer Jim White, who’s best known as a member of the internationally acclaimed instrumental rock act Dirty Three and for collaborating with a number of equally renowned artists including PJ Harvey, Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan a.k.a. Smog and others; and beloved Crete-born vocalist and laouto player Giorgos Xylouris, the son of renowned vocalist and lyra player Psarantonis Xylouris, and who is best known best known for leading the Xylouris Ensemble.
Now, as you may recall the duo can actually trace their origins to when the renowned Cretan and his ensemble was touring Melbourne in the early 1990s. And as the story goes, White was a member of locally-based avant-garde rock band Venom P. Stinger, when he had met and befriended Xylouris, who would later collaborate with White’s then future band, Dirty Three whenever Xylouris and his Ensemble were touring Australia. Unsurprisingly the collaboration between the members of the Xylouris Ensemble and Dirty Three became a rather fruitful collaboration based on a healthy, mutual admiration, as well as the influence of Xylouris’ father Psaratonis and Xylouris’ work and sound had on Dirty Three’s own sound and compositional approach.
Strangely enough, although White and Xylouris had been friends and collaborators for more than 20 years, it wasn’t until 2013 that they decided that they should directly collaborate together, a process that was accelerated when the duo played together at a Nick Cave curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. The duo’s long-held admiration and friendship constantly influences how they write, record and perform together — with their compositions frequently sounding as though they were dancing, as though at any given point, one instrument leading with the other one following and quickly shifting in a wildly fluid fashion. Goats, Xylouris White’s debut was largely inspired by their creative approach, an approach that Xylouris poetically described as being “Like goats walking in the mountain. They may not know the place, but they can walk easily and take risks and feel comfortable. Really, the goats inspired us.”
Black Peak, Xylouris White’s sophomore album furthers the goat analogy, with the album’s title being derived from one of Crete’s most famous mountains; however, the album, which was “recorded everywhere,” as Xylouris jokes in press notes and produced by Fugazi‘s Guy Picciotto, found the duo expanding upon their sound as the material possesses a subtly modern take on traditional sounds and motifs — at points sounding as though it drew from classic rock, as you’d hear on album singles “Black Peak,” and “Forging.”
Mother, the duo’s third, full-length effort together is slated for release through Bella Union Records next week, and as Giorgos Xylouris explains in press notes, the album was named to denote “new life.” “Mother is the extension of Goats and Black Peak,” Xylouris adds. “Three things, all part of a whole. Goats are mothers, Zeus was raised on Amaltheia’s milk, Black Peak is Mother Earth . . . Mother Earth is the mother of everything.” Reportedly, the duo will further cement their reputation for having a fluid and mischievous chemistry in which they intuitively known exactly when to listen, when to accommodate, when to lead and get out of the way, and to find something completely new together. “A theme of the album is the significance of simplicity and a child-like approach,” Xylouris explains. “So, we connect mother and child and play instruments as toys. Xylouris White is still gestating.”
Mother’s first single “Only Love” is a rollicking and furiously passionate song featuring a roomy yet simultaneously dense arrangement consisting White’s propulsive rock ‘n’ roll-like drumming paired with Xylouris’ dexterous, power chord, heavy metal-like lout playing, accompanied by Xylouris’ sonorous and plaintive baritone. And in some way, the song evokes a swooning urgency of the pangs of first love, while revealing the duo’s mischievous and improvisational-like compositional approach.
Directed by Lucy Dyson, the recently released video for “Only Love” is a animated video featuring cartoon collages of Xylouris and White running to meet each other, riding enormous goats and chasing after anthropomorphic version of their instruments, that also ride goats. At various points, they’re all chased by skulls. It’s colorful, wild and downright mischievous.