The Xylouris White duo is a collaboration between Australian drummer Jim White (known for his work with Dirty Three, Cat Power and Smog), and Giorgos Xylouris, a renowned Cretan lute (laouto) player, carrying with him the rich musical tradition of Anogeia village and the legacy of the legendary Xylouris family. Giorgos’ uncle was Nikos Xylouris, a national music icon whose nickname is “archangel of Crete” and his dad is Antonis Xylouris, a.k.a. Psarandonis, a singer and lyra player, known well for pushing traditional folk music in new directions.
The duo’s sound takes Cretan melodies and rhythms like the “sousta” and the “syrto” and re-interprets them through a language of improvisation born from their long-time friendship. Their debut album Goats, released in 2014 and produced by Guy Picciotto (Fugazi, Rites of Spring), is a complex, original dialogue between the lute and drums. The album received very good reviews internationally and topped the Billboard World Albums. According to Pitchfork, “it’s an album that moves between Indian, Eastern European, African, Middle Eastern, Western, and Mediterranean modes. There is jazz and punk here along with dashes of bluegrass, klezmer, and folk and yet it’s all conveyed seamlessly.”
Asked on the album’s title “Goats,” the band said that this is how they would characterize their music: “goatish, because it is untamed and free”. Commenting how Jim White’s drumming blends in with the musical traditions of Crete, Giorgos Xylouris noted that “Cretan music has different themes, soft and strong, and talks about all different things: life, love, death, mountains, the snake with the two heads -which means Hell, the beautiful tree -symbolizing heaven, or the eagle that has snow on its feathers and cannot fly. I think the sounds Jim [White] makes have that, all of that […] So beautiful and strong at the same time.”
The band has been touring all over Europe and the US for the past two years, and has just released their second album, Black Peak. According to the New York Times’ review of the album “the duo makes music that sounds like modern folklore, or post-punk from the Middle Ages. It’s joyous and scratchy and rocking and fantastically untrendy.”
From Uncut’s review: “The album includes a track called Erotokritos, based on the opening stanzas of an epic 17th century poem that provides the basis for much of Cretan music. During the song Giorgos Xylouris adopts a terrifyingly low baritone rumble, while his pal Bonnie Prince Billy provides eerie vocal harmonies “It’s about the past and the future,” says Xylouris. About how our feelings for time go deep into the earth and cry out into the sky.” When Giorgos’ father, Psarantonis arrives on the final track to provide countermelodies on the bowed lyra, it sounds like a circle has truly been completed. This is Cretan fold music played with a rock and roll intensively that is truly immersive.”
Xylouris White is on tour in Europe and the US until December 17, check out their tour dates here.
The eponymous song from their latest album, Black Peak: