They are probably one of the most interesting recent and new musical project out from the US during the last year and at the same time also something that I would actually define as an enigma. This is not because I’ve not clear what were the initial intents of the project, but just because at a certain point, after listening to the album several times, I considered that definitely they hadn’t effectively exactly reached in what they wanted to do. Not for this reason of course I’m saying to you to avoid this record. Not at all. On the other hand, in fact, I consider you absolutely need to give a listen to it. Because you will surely find unexpected aspects and original sonorities, some brilliant ideas conceived on the other hand by who are very good and notable musicians.
XIXA, in fact, taking the name from the traditional and vintage folk Latin music originate from Peru, the ‘chicha’, a subgenere of the of cumbia become popular in the 1960s through the fusion of the original one, traditional huayno and rock music (particulary surf and psychedelic rock), it’s a musical project from Tucson, Arizona, started last year by Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan. Because you’ve possibly heard before these name and considering we’re in Tucson, you could easily reconnect these two names to the Giant Sand. The two in fact are notable for being among the musicians who are used to play in the historical and heavily influential band of singer and songwriter Howe Gelb. This does mean two things: the first one it’s that, as I wrote before, we are talking about talented and serious good indie rock musicians; the second one it’s that when you talk about Giant Sand, you’ve inevitably to make your counts with the desert rock and the desert itself, considering this as a space but also as a kind of culture, a particular state of mind. And frequencies from the desert are vibes you can hear repeating themselves all around and spreading all around the world. So made the sonorities of this album that starting from the psychedelic and latino sonorities of the cumbia, combinate itself in something different we necessearly have to define as world music.
‘Bloodline’, their first LP was out via Glitterhouse Records, probably the best, the unique label which could actually propose album made of this sonorities and fascinations and followed the EP out last year, ‘Shift and Shadow’, which contained actually four tracks, anticipating the sonorities of the project and also proposing a particular cumbia version of ‘Plateau’ by the Meat Puppets. The album was out last February and in a moment in which it was clear Donald Trump was running as a candidate of the Republican Party to become the next President of the United States of America and the most part of the debates about him were related to his ideas about immigration and in particular illegal immigrate coming from the Mexican frontiers. Bullshit of course. Unfortunately many Americans believed and probably still believes he was a right man and they voted him, but, you see, this album it’s in a certain way a true demonstration of how immigrants made the America and are still making it what we could define as a big country, making it in fact a much rich place because the multitude of cultures and heritage traditions.
Both Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan in fact have got latino discendences, they are second or third generation latino families and as the same Brian reported, ‘Latin music is part of Tucson’s sonic landscape.’ Only forty miles from the border, the city’s laidback vibe and Mexican communities nurture everything from strong singer-songwriter and hardcore scenes to great cumbia bands playing at out-of- the-way Mexican steak houses on the south side of town. Latin music is everywhere. For them the interesting into latino music and cumbia was something inevitable. A question of blood.
On a road tracked earlier by the coming-up of Tinariwen, a group which surely has been one of the greatest exploit into psychedelia and into the so-defined world-music (a definition it seems we have to use every time a record it is not coming out from North America, UK and eventually Australia) and the following interesting in the Mali scene by Hugo Race and another couple of great and influential musicians as Chris Brokaw and Chris Eckman, who formed the Dirtmusic project and in practice opened the way the way to the exploit of the several Tamikrest, Terakaft and finally the more conventional Bombino, redifined some way the concept of the blues and of the rock music. Because it was in the heart of the Africa that Hugo and his bandmates found the origin of the blues. Much more than this, these happenings redifined the borders of the psychedelic genre that from that moment became something that wasn’t necessearly a property of the Western World.
In the last years, psychedelic bands and realities from all the part of the world, particularry from South America, and this is probably not a case, spreaded and came to a certain attention also in the North America and Europe, breaking cultural barreers and modifying our ways to approach to these places, considering them in a way so different from the usual and stereotype view we have had until this moment. So, I fundamentally disagree if someone would consider this project as something exotic. If this music it’s some way remote this is because it would make you think to remote landscapes, the desert of course and Amazon backwaters, the obscure side of the American southwest.
The album opens with ‘Bloodline’, what I would define as a desert-rock cumbia ballad in a style that could possibly remind you to some episodes of the solo career of Howe Gelb or to the album he released with A Band of Gypsies some years ago. The sound it’s actually electric and very groovy like it pretends the tradition coming out from the South America. Rhythms you could also find in ‘Vampiro’, where you come in touch with fascinations and imagerries out from the western and cowboys (better gauchos) movies; mariachi guitarisms; gypsy and vagrant elements which would make you think to the magic world of the romances by Garcia Marquez and to sonorities which no require actually space and time.
‘Killer’ it’s a typical cumbia with a certain thrilling refrain because the sound of the guitars and the usage of the keyboards in the fondo that I guess would fit to some Tarantinian movies and made me think to a movie like ‘Vampires’ by John Carpenter. By the way, I guess this is a song, accompanied by Beatles’ chorus and a pop-psychedelic refrain, that needed to be listened wearing sunglasses.
‘World Goes Away’ has got something of Howe Gelb but the song is actually sung with dark tonalities that could remind you to Nick Cave (a way of singing you could consider also in the rumorist south-american ballads, ‘Pressures of Mankind’) and that later opened with an evocative ending that would make you think to what are ancestral rituals of the ancient population living in South America and to Andine imageries.
‘Down From The Sky’ it’s a song in which for the first time in many years I see a connection with one of the band I most enjoyed when I was a teen-ager. I’m talking of the Screaming Trees. Fuck, believe me, this is the most powerful song of the album and it appears as it is coming out directly from ‘Dust’ (1996).
After this episode, in my opinion, the album became very confusional and too much controversial. Not just because of its contents, that are much more ‘cumbia’ (among these also the folkloristic and evocative, ‘Golden Apparition’) than the previous, but because in many cases there’re too much sounds played ones over the others and the results are too much confusionary and noisy, quite disturbing. This happens in ‘Pressures of Mankind’, ‘Nena Linda’, ‘Living On The Line’… Among these I would surely mention in a positive way, ‘Dead Man’, also contained in the EP, ‘Shift and Shadow’, one of the best song of the album and what we could define as an eccentric western ballads in the point of middle between folk psychedelia and desert rock. An allucinate vision because the indjesting of mescalina and the sweltering hot sun.
Finally, the result of this work it’s some way controversial. This crazy enxemble surely did something out from the usual schemess. I wouldn’t consider them anyway similar to the groups I mentioned before, neither I see any similarities between them and Goat for example. XIXA it’s a kinky and an eccentric project where psychedelia and remote fascinations melt together sometimes in a good way, sometimes with a contrast not well resolved by the band. Anyway, listening to this atypical rock and roll band would make two considerataions. The first one it is that some cumbia sonorities and elements of latino music are incredibly the same of the legacies and heritage traditions of the Eastern Europe music culture and this probably is because of the gipsies, the vagrants who has always gone ‘round and ‘round the world since the mankind left Africa and always adopering the music as a form of communication. The second one it is that you would inevitably think both to the typical ‘guapperia’ and bravery we are used to attribute to the Mexican mariachis and on the other hand collocate the band in a cinematographic context. ‘The Blues Brothers’ or much more, finally, ‘Leningrad Cowboys Go America’. The differences are in the foot-long quiff hairstyles and the long winklepicker shoes. Who knows if Aki Kaurismaki have never listened about them.
You can also read this review at machchapuchchare