Xenoula produces a wonderfully eclectic album full of life, color and personality.
Xenoula is Romy Xeno. Her ideas and relationship to music were formed by two enormously differently experiences. Firstly, by her childhood spent in South Africa where she related deeply to the songs about nature and the environment that had been passed down through the generations. Then, by the seismic shock of moving to the UK at age 16 and her struggles to cope with her new surroundings as her closeness to nature gave way to a reliance on technology and machines. Both these experiences have had a clear influence on her wonderfully eccentric and beautifully crafted debut album. One in which she has created the persona of Xenoula as a means to articulate her feelings about the modern world.
Release Date: 24 Nov 2017
Xenoula is a female, silver-skinned, humanoid who was sent to earth 9,000 years ago. She remained detached from the world for thousands of years until the rapid pace of technological change woke her up in 2012. Since then she has aimed to raise awareness of the harm environmental destruction is having on her kind and to other species around the world. The result is this collection of songs that address the detrimental effect of human activity on the environment as well as highlights the contrast between nature and the industrial world that the teenage Xeno encountered when she moved to the UK.
Produced by LA Priest, opening song "Chief of Tin" mixes primal electronic beats with light shuffling percussion and quietly bubbling synths. It's a striking and suitably otherworldly introduction into Xenoula's world with her almost mystical vocals coming over like a cross between the refined detachment of Lana Del Rey and the spellbinding, more idiosyncratic Kate Bush. "Luna Man" rides a backing of hand clapped percussion interwoven with a simple Americana lead guitar line. Xeno adeptly brings in uncomplicated open guitar chords, keyboards and synths before stripping them away before it becomes too cluttered. It becomes clear very early on that the tight-knit, sonic textures and layered percussion perfectly frame Xeno's vocals, providing the soft earth that allows the hooks and melodies to seed and grow.
"Cyan Water" is a bouncy, striding song emboldened by a '80s G-funk bassline with a sprinkling of the playfulness of early Björk. "Caramello" keeps things funky but is far sweeter and smoother, as the name would suggest. Xemy delicately whips everything together to create a lo-fi R&B funk vibe. "She Ghosts" adds the bright, neon sheen of bands like Rainbow Arabia but with an alien twist.
Elsewhere, the sing-song vocals of "Honey Priest" have an almost nursery rhyme quality, accentuated by the simple, clapped percussion and a radiant whirl of synths and effects. The skeletal, "Alouda", calms things down nicely as her glassy vocals are backed by simple traditional sounding percussion, before taking off again in a spectral swoosh of warped synths.
The album is a delightful mix of styles with no two songs sounding even remotely similar. "Deer Ron" is a wonderfully glitchy instrumental, illustrating her ability to adapt effortlessly to different styles while "Leyline Ogres" contrasts a dark, deep synth bassline with squelching keyboards and what sounds like an Indian Tabla. Album closer "Toraroi" veers towards late '90s trip-hop with Xeno's vocals sharing the nocturnal majesty of Martina Topley Bird. It finishes in a digital swirl of synths as the character, Xenoula, pleads "Bring us the light / Come save us."
It is rare to find an album so confidently reveling in its eclecticism and eccentricity but with the songs to match. This is such an album. It's an album so full of life, color and personality that it's almost a disappointment when it comes to an end.