Review Summary: the one with the weird guitar in it
I’ve been overseas twice, both times as a child eternally grateful for a responsible, relatively affluent adult’s pay-check. The US played host to our family the first time. Give or take a stroll down the Vegas Strip, the place is perfect for kids; I ate too much, found God in theme parks, pretended I knew all there was to know about the NBA. The bucket list, freshly started and marked by naivete, became an item shorter.
The second and last time I boarded a plane overseas, it was destined for Europe during the winter of 2012. Older now: more receptive to new ideas, new cultures; in which a walk through Jardin des Tuileries was just as exciting as a sojourn at Disneyland. It instilled in me a desire for new experiences, one that I haven’t managed to truly satiate since.
Now I don’t have the money for travel. Maybe if I sold my laptop, my car, my guitar, but no -- for the time being, I’m stuck here (“stuck” may be too harsh a word, for a town all too understanding of my need for space), picking up cultural touchstones from my bedroom. It’s a much less effective method, a facsimile of understanding, but it’s all I’ve got.
But I don’t think that’s why I can’t pinpoint Mother
, the most recent output from Greek/Australian duo Xylouris White. It’s a record both anachronistic and anatopistic -- vaguely like this and vaguely like that. In Media Res
sounds like it could’ve been kicked up with the dust on a busy street in Dubai, and the soulful timbre of George Xylouris’ voice in Spud’s Garden
would sound at home amidst wedding festivities literally anywhere on the Balkan Peninsula, circa whenever.
The scope of its influence encompasses the globe, despite the fact that the record sets its feet firmly in the traditions of Greek folk music. Xylouris’ primary instrument is the laouto -- a fascinating member of the lute family originating in Greece, and its tone is resonant, singing out with a rasp. The fret-buzz is as important to the sound palette as the notes themselves, which is to say that Xylouris’ style is one that feels travelled
, in the same way corrosion and bruising adds character and value to the body of a guitar.
It’s giving this record too much to say it’s truly transportative, that it takes me places, but points for trying. Only Love
is at least immersive -- a sprint around the world in less than eighty days, punctuated by some tight, nimble playing on the part of both Xylouris and drummer Jim White. But a word on White: I think his is a style that adapts, like any good rhythm section should, to the musician it supports. There are traces of Dirty Three still in his drumming: he plays loose, disappearing and reappearing in barely discernible patterns, but the foundation is there. More swaying net than concrete floor.
The union between the two musicians (one entrenched in Cretan folk and medieval music, the other in instrumental rock and post-punk) is the alchemy which makes this record both structurally cohesive yet subtly and, somewhat contrarily, diffuse. These two know each other well, but together they write songs that are fleet-footed, skipping through foreign spaces as quickly as you can spell out their names. While they move hurriedly, they still manage the time to borrow details, souvenirs, from the communities in their whirlwind path.
No, I don’t see another overseas trip on the horizon. Mother
will have to do.