Album: Black Peak

Artist: Xylouris White

Label: Bella Union

Release Date: October 14, 2016



The Upshot: Greek lute player meets Dirty Three percussionist to create beautiful, strange, and arresting music.


Black Peak is the second outing from an unlikely pair: Giorgios Xylouris a master of the traditional Greek lute and Jim White the great indie rock drummer of Dirty Three. Their conjunction makes more sense when you recognize that in Crete, where Xylouris comes from, the lute serves as a rhythmic instrument, putting a bracing, staccato jump start under age-old melodies. White, meanwhile, has never been a meter-bound drummer. He suggests the beat rather than banging out the twos and fours, and he fills in the spaces between with feverish, abstract reveries.

In any case, the two work in lovely congruity throughout, in spritely, sharp-edged sprays of staccato notes that are set to dance by jubilant, space-bounding beats. (Perhaps it’s the title, but I can’t hear “Black Peak” without seeing mountain goats leaping from rock to rock.)  The melody is mostly delivered by Xylouris’ voice, a weathered instrument with a quaver that denotes not weakness but endurance, resilience and history. This is a change from Goats in 2014, which was entirely instrumental, and it tugs Black Peak a bit further into recognizably folk-ish territory. Yet even so, there are intervals that sound like Xylouris is freestyling over a break beat or perhaps in front of a Big Ten marching band drum line.

“Erotokritos” slips interestingly into a blues-tinged space, Xylouris whispering cavernously over a quiet lattice of guitars, a spare punctuation of cymbal and kick drum. The tune is deeply unfamiliar, picked out of non-western harmonies and sung in guttural Greek, but it touches off the same mournful, eerie emotions as Appalachian blues. It is odd, but also make a certain kind of sense that Bonnie Prince Billy sings harmonies; if you were looking to see a darkness, there is definitely one here.

The last track, “The Feast” departs from the model. It is languid rather than playful, moodily introspective rather than communal. Xylouris’ father, Psarantonis makes a cameo on lyra, a bowed instrument of melancholy temperament, while Xylouris himself talk sings ashily over a mesh of strumming, keening and tumultuous drumming. It sounds more like White’s other band, The Dirty Three, than anything else so far, and yet not like it at all. Beautiful stuff, strange and arresting.

DOWNLOAD: “Black Peak,” “The Feast”


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