Xylouris White

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This photo and artwork: Anna White. Banner photo above: Manolis Mathioudakis.

You might think a drum kit and a lute are insufficient tools when it comes to creating completely original, holy-crap-what-is-this music. And in the hands of most humans that would probably be true. But Georgios Xylouris and Jim White are not most humans.

The unlikely duo first connected in Melbourne, Australia in the ’90s, where White had an instrumental rock trio called Dirty Three and Xylouris fronted a group called Xylouris Ensemble that showcased his unique approach to the music of his native Crete — mixing it with Irish folk music, as well as more modern elements — and his chosen instrument, the laouto, a long-necked, eight-stringed lute. In traditional Greek and Cretan music, it’s typically a supporting instrument, used mainly for rhythm and texture — but Xylouris can shred on that thing like a cross between Andrés Segovia and Chris Thile.

Jim White, in some ways, also plays the drums like a lead instrument — or at least explores their melodic and timbral possibilities more thoroughly than most rock drummers. His incredibly expressive playing has backed everyone from Nick Cave to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. But he didn’t begin working with Xylouris until 2014, when the duo released their first album as Xylouris White, Goats — an apt title, because there’s something voracious about the way they explore every little cranny and crevice in the space where their two styles of music overlap. The sound of the laouto keeps them rooted in Greek and Cretan folk music, but from there they go flying off into atmospheric post-rock, Indian ragas, drone, psychedelia, jazz, and the vaguely medieval sounds of neoclassical folk and darkwave. It’s not music that immediately strikes you as “weird” per se, but the longer you listen, the harder it is to describe — which is as good an overarching description as any of the kind of music this blog is dedicated to exploring.

Xylouris White just released their third album, Mother, and I think it’s their best work yet, with more of Xylouris’ powerful vocals and a sort of moody, post-punk, gypsy trance vibe that contains echoes of everything from Ravi Shankar and Gábor Szabó to Dead Can Dance and Robby Krieger’s guitar parts on “The End.” It’s eerie and beautiful and incantatory and doesn’t sound like it could possibly be the work of just two musicians — but after seeing them live this week (they’re playing Zebulon here in L.A. every Monday this month — for free! — and on tour through May), I’m pretty sure that Mother contains very few overdubs. Between White’s graceful yet octopus-like command of his kit and the crazy overtones and drones Xylouris can get from his lute, the two of them can generate quite a racket.

Though they have an undeniably fascinating sound, I honestly didn’t consider adding Xylouris White to the Weird List until I saw this video for “Only Love,” one of the most rockin’ songs on Mother. Between the Primus-like opening riff and the goofy animation (my favorite part: when something like a goat mosh pit breaks out) courtesy of director Lucy Dyson, it’s definitely one of the most eye-catchingly absurd clips I’ve seen in recent memory.

I’ll leave you with Xylouris White’s other recent music video, for the Mother track “Daphne.” This one’s only weird if you think it’s weird for old ladies to dance alone in fields, which you shouldn’t. With any luck, we’ll all be able to bust moves like this well into our twilight years. (Also, those old ladies are Jim White and George Xylouris’ mothers. So show a little goddamned respect.)

Side note: Back in his native Crete, Giorgos Xylouris is folk music royalty. His father is Antonis “Psarantonis” Xylouris, a renowned lyra player (a smaller, three-stringed cousin of the laouto), and his late uncle was Nikos “Psaronikos” Xylouris, a singer and lyra player whose music became a soundtrack and inspiration for the youth protest movement that eventually brought down the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. Giorgos (or George, to his English-speaking pals) is known in Greece as Psarogiorgos. We’re not sure what the “psaro” prefix means but presumably it’s some kind of honorific bestowed upon members of the Xylouris family who have achieved a certain level of awesomeness. (Giorgos’ children, who perform with him in Xylouris Ensemble, don’t appear to have earned it yet. But give them time.)

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Arrington de Dionyso goes rude boy on new Malaikat dan Singa song “I Create in the Broken System”

Malaikat Dan Singa
Photo by Lucinda Roanoke

It’s been a year or three since we last heard from Malaikat dan Singa, the Tuvan throat-singing trance-punk project of Old Time Relijun lead singer Arrington de Dionyso. But just the other day, we got an email from Arrington himself, alerting us to the arrival of a brand-new Malaikat dan Singa album and music video. Thanks, Arrington! It’s because of proactive artists like you that we get to sit on our asses looking at Passed Out Juggalos all day instead of trawling the Interwebs for, y’know, music news and stuff.

Anyway, the album is called Open the Crown and it’s out now on the ever awesome K Records. Based on what we’ve heard of it, we’re happy to report that Arrington is full freakout mode, complete with throat singing, bass clarinet and ranting and raving in his preferred rock ‘n’ roll language, Indonesian—although he now mostly belts out in English. The other new wrinkle here, besides the semi-intelligible English lyrics, is a growing interest in the hip-skankin’ beats, loose-limbed basslines and tape echo of Jamaican dub and reggae—an interest that becomes a full-blown homage in the first Open the Crown song to be released in video form, “I Create in the Broken System.” You might think there’s no connection between throat singing and rude boy toasting, but there’s something in Arrington’s growling delivery that’s totally Tibet by way of Trench Town. Also, there are cheetahs and lions.

You can preview more tracks from Open the Crown and I dunno, maybe buy the damn thing for just $6.99 on the K Records website. Think of it as doing your small part to stick it to The Broken System.

Arrington de Dionyso Malaikat dan Singa

Hi, kids! How was your summer? Ours was pretty darn rad, I gotta say. We found lots of weird music, made some new friends (hi, Emotron!), launched our online store, and spent just enough of it drunk to take the edge off this whole recession thing. Also, Weirdest Band in the World celebrated its one-year anniversary…did you get us anything? No? That’s okay…your presence is our present. (Don’t you hate when people say that?)

Anyway, Jake and I are tan, rested, and ready to bring you another year of really weird bands. First up: a new project from a lunatic named Arrington de Dionyso. Arrington’s main gig is serving as lead singer of Pacific Northwest noise-punks Old Time Relijun. We’ve known about OTR for awhile, and although they’re kinda weird, we never really considered them TWBITW-worthy. They throw in the occasional touches of free-jazz skronk, but still—our minds weren’t blown.

But this Malaikat dan Singa project is pretty off-the-charts, for a number of reasons. First, de Dionyso sings all the band’s songs in Indonesian. Why? Well, according to one official bio, “the Indonesian language allows de Dionyso to communicate on levels more deeply subliminal than those accessible in his native English.”  Not sure we buy that, but yes, it does give the songs an added layer of weirdness.

Second, de Dionyso occasionally incorporates Tuvan throat singing into his vocals, which gives the songs an added element of Far Eastern mystical juju and—because he puts his own punk-rock spin on throat singing’s eerie, inhuman tones—a vibe that could probably best be described as acid-rock for zombies. Seriously, it’s ugly, creepy, but occasionally trance-inducing stuff. In fact, de Dionyso apparently calls it “trance-punk.” Which is as good a description as any.

Oh, and some of the lyrics are apparently Indonesian translations of William Blake poems. Hey, why not?

Malaikat dan Singa’s self-titled debut is out now on K Records, and you can stream the whole thing on their website. [Update: You can no longer stream the whole thing on their website. You snooze, you lose!] Check it out and tell us de Dionyso isn’t the loopiest rock vocalist this side of Mike Patton. (He also seems to share Patton’s restless spirit—besides Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa, he also fronts a free-jazz group called The Naked Future and paints a lot.)

Malaikat’s live shows don’t seem to translate real well to video—de Dionyso is always a compelling figure, but the rest of the band is pretty much just up there chopping wood and giving him a steady groove to freak out on top of. But this animated video, done by a guy named Ben Wolfinsohn for his My Odd Days project, captures the band’s unhinged spirit pretty well. We especially like that he chose to make de Dionyso look like a guy who just wandered in from an office Christmas party.

UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this, we were contacted by Arrington himself (we’re not worthy!) who pointed us to a cool feature on him on this art ‘n culture site called The Black Harbor. We especially recommend checking out the second of the three videos on that page, where he demonstrates how he uses an antique record lathe and plastic picnic plates to make homemade records that he then sometimes incorporates into his shows. Very nifty stuff.

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