Xylaroo – Sweetooth review

Xyla­roo are Hol­ly and Coco Chant: two sis­ters mak­ing mar­vel­lous­ly imag­i­na­tive music which draws from an exot­ic cock­tail of musi­cal influ­ences. The two sis­ters have lived in half a dozen coun­tries, includ­ing Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Sri Lan­ka, before set­tling – for the moment – in Can­ning Town, Lon­don. Their debut album, Swee­t­ooth, is a jour­ney that’s pro­found­ly broad, wild­ly orig­i­nal and down­right deli­cious on every level.

Hol­ly and Coco’s har­mo­nious voic­es are the top lay­er of this potent mix­ture. They’re voic­es remain in com­plete sync with one anoth­er, like a mir­ror image. Straight­away, the sis­ters will bring the likes of First Aid Kid and Ibeyi to mind on open­er ‘Track a’ Lackin’’. It’s real rail­road trav­el­ling folk. But that’s only the beginning.

Swee­t­ooth is awash with per­cus­sive melodies (‘Sun­shine’) and com­po­si­tions that feel far more mature and instinc­tive than one might expect from the 20-some­thing sis­ters. ‘Dan­ger’, an anti-racism song inspired by recent broad­casts of police bru­tal­i­ty, has nods to the haunt­ing song ‘Strange Fruit’ and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The dark edge to some of the songs, no doubt dri­ven by the sis­ters’ life expe­ri­ences so far, is refresh­ing­ly hon­esty. And the same can be said for the sis­ters’ respect for their own roots (‘Lon­pela Taim’).

Else­where, ‘Riv­er of Love’ is a stout cry to “sanc­ti­fy… what you are dig­ging for in the depths of your soul”. Soaked with sax puffs, the ten­der ‘Set Me on Fire and Send Me to Cana­da’ man­ages to be zany and soul­ful at the same time – the sort of song you’d receive from an admir­er, and unknow­ing­ly begin to low­er your defence to their advances there­after. ‘Nar­whal’, mean­while, is a splen­did acoustic ode to the feel­ing of being insignif­i­cant com­pared to nature.

Xylaroo’s debut album is tru­ly some­thing. It’s camp­fire folk which upends the genre with a melt­ing pot of musi­cal flavour­ings. Joy­ous, cheeky, beguil­ing – it’s sub­lime in every respect.

Swee­t­ooth is out now on Sun­day Best Recordings/PIAS.

[This review was first pub­lished on aaronlee.co.uk, Dec 11, 2016.]

Image: Gullick/Sunday Best