The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Xeno & Oaklander
Hypnos Kareem Ghezawi , March 12th, 2019 09:03

The fifth album by Xeno & Oaklander, Hypnos, is an unabashed geek out over synths and Greek gods

Music is often a natural by-product of close personal relationships between serious artists and Sean Mcbride and Liz Wedelbo are no exception. Together, they have built a system of daily practice in their home studio which has allowed them to expand on their mutual fascination with 80s minimal wave culture and subsequently perfect their interpretation of it over the course of five albums.

There is a vocal selection of critics who claim that their formula, and the appeal of the scene itself is staid and flatlined, as if the artists are in a prison they need to break out from. I don’t think it’s that dramatic. To me Xeno & Oaklander is essentially a guy and a girl geeking out on wax. Fawning over the Parthenon, metaphysics, gods, ancient caves and having fun with their analogue treasures. They are not born singers and the fact that people are starting to take their hobby seriously was probably never part of their motivations. At the end of the day, they respect their parameters, which is a feat in itself.

X&O is an unashamed musical lovechild of a bygone and beloved era and a doorway in which countless generations will find out about the pioneering but forgotten artists of the eighties – like Deux and Oppenheimer Analysis, joining a glorious and endless list of Kraftwerk’s bastard orphans.

Following on from 2016’s Topiary, Wedelbo has taken on sole vocal duties with this project. Her voice is no longer an incognito mechanism in a racing synth-scape you might take for granted, but more akin to a repressed femme fatal that has finally given in to her urge to seduce. She is officially the front woman now. And in this mini-album we are presented with a more musically and spiritually self-assured woman, evident from the newfound range, projection and clarity of her voice. From the shadowy whispers of the dreamscape romance, ‘Hypnos’ to a daydreaming Debbie Harry in the funky and warped disco sound of ‘The light, the whisper’.

In terms of the music, they have upped the tempo of their shower of synthetic rhythm and formed a more smooth and cerebral relationship with its multiple new punchy and spacey layers. On first glance it may sound customarily stripped down but if you listen closely you can appreciate the refined nuances and new energetic flurry of activity. You can also sense the effect their ambient explorations in Movements II has had on its maturity and mood. It was a breather for them and the audience, a clear clean reset and a catalyst in which to spark new ideas. Hypnos has the soul of Par Avion, with its return to polyphonic synthesisers and dense harmonies that complement Wedelbo’s voice.

Thematically, it Is a continuation of Wedelbo’s original solo work in the monophonic, Topiary. With Hypnos they have found a compromise, and this optimal arrangement has created a comfortable environment for Wedelbo to guide the newfound momentum and drama of X&O’s musical explorations. And she has done just that. She has breathed new life into a golden – but ageing – sound, stretched to the limits of its longevity. Planted seeds in the tired earth of a dark forest. If you look hard enough, you can see colourful new things are already starting to grow.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.