sun 14/07/2024

CD: Xam Duo - Xam Duo | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Xam Duo - Xam Duo

CD: Xam Duo - Xam Duo

A wonderful, improvisational debut from the Hookworms and Deadwall alumni

'What's wrong with a simple sudoku?'

Everything about Xam Duo’s debut album, out earlier this month on Sonic Cathedral, has a wonderful sense of self-indulgence: from the freeform, experimental feel, the stretched-out tones and resulting melodies that exist almost by implication, to the mournful squall of the saxophone, buoyed by a stubborn sea of sound.

The project, a collaboration between Hookworms’ Matthew Benn and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall, was born when the former was looking to expand what had, up until then, been a solo project. Much of this album is formed of the pair’s very first, completely improvised, session together and is an extraordinary record of two musicians feeling their way around one another. In actual fact, Xam Duo is a much more comfortable listen that this may, at first, suggest.

Some pieces sound like lost broadcasts from a far-off place, full of things to be decoded

There is a temptation – one that can often feel like a requirement – to surrender to music like this, to let the ambient drones wash over you like a musical massage while the mind is buoyed, but meditative, unable to hold on to any particular moment for fear that it will break the spell. That is an approach that will repay to an extent – there’s certainly some value in music as function, but active, and repeated, listening unlocks so much more here.

As with Gaussian Curve, the often incendiary live shows once performed by The Bays, or the home-built synth experiments of Vactrol Park, what the immediacy of improvisation gives us is moments, defining points on a journey where things click and something else takes over. There are many such moments here – drift off and you could miss them.

From the tidal ebb and flow of “Pine Barrens”, to the beautifully constructed, on-the-fly transition between “I Extend My Arms” Parts I and II, and the purposed, throbbing coalescence of album closer “René”, these are not passages you will hear live. Xam Duo’s shows are also improvised – this is the only record of these ephemeral constructs.

That seems perfectly fitting, particularly in the case of “Ashtanga” or “The Test Dream”, pieces that sound like lost broadcasts from a far-off place, full of things to be decoded – although using a description that could equally apply to an AM broadcast of the shipping forecast read by a whispering Janner might not adequately convey quite the glinting promise on display here.

“I appreciate that improvised music isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I love doing,” Matthew says in a statement that feels like a direct descendant of the great indie maxim. “We just do what we do and if anyone likes it, that’s a bonus.” At a time when so much new music feels built-to-fit, I can’t think of a more refreshing tonic.


Xam Duo is an extraordinary record of two musicians feeling their way around one another


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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