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