They may originate from markedly different countries and cultures, but the pairing of Cretan folk musician Giorgos (George) Xylouris and Australian post-punk Jim White nevertheless makes instant sense.
White has played drums alongside guitarist Mick Turner and violinist Warren Ellis in Dirty Three since the early 90s, so he’s easeful when matching percussion to keenly individuated string sounds. He certainly seems naturally sympathetic to Xylouris, a lutenist from a storied Greek musical family. Both Xylouris’ uncle Nikos, dubbed the “archangel of Crete”, and his father Antonis (‘Psarandonis’), were renowned singers and lyra players, and George accompanied Psarandonis on many recordings and performances. He’s notable for his free approach, playing lute not to provide rhythmic accompaniment for a singer or lyra player, as is traditional in Greek music, but as a melodic solo instrument.
Goats is concise (nine pieces in 35 minutes) and unforced. The music is neither folksy nor knowingly multicultural, but rather modestly sui generis, predominantly instrumental, potent and infectious.
Xylouris and White met while the former was resident in Australia. He formed the Xylouris Ensemble there to play music derived from Geek tradition, but also collaborated with rock musicians, so he approaches his instrument with a practiced, back-to-basics conception of its potential. White, likewise, pays drums on an equal footing, freed from the rhythm imperative.
The album begins punchily, with the staccato scaffold of “Pulling the Bricks” framing wiry solo lute, and a brisk, martial feel to”Old School Sousta”, but “Psarandonis Syrto” is more typical. Xylouris picks over phrase variations before settling on a lick with just a hint of Tuareg inflection, and White locks on to that lick and bolsters otherwise circumambulatory percussion with mallet rolls on toms. Rather than work this rhythm up (in lesser hands it might’ve triggered a clap-along-a-thon, and it’s easy to imagine this music morphing in live performance), the duo modulate their dynamics and ease back a little for an unexpectedly brooding, open-ended conclusion.
“The Bells” is lighter, looser, Xylouris picking out both melodic and steady, lower-register rhythmic lines while White plays a light stippling of rim shots and rolling percussion. “Wind” is longer, and steadier, again with a martial pulse emphasised by White on the snare drum. Instrumental, yes, and broadly experimental, but still made fast to rhythm.
Xylouris’ playing on “Suburb” is cyclical finger-style, switching between crisp, ornate harmonic patterning with a Moorish tinge and briskly-strummed chords. White provides inventive accompaniment twith the taut, dextrously percussive sound of hand drums and a lighter patterning of sticks on kit peripherals. “Chicken Song” is a logical follow-up, a dizzying, cyclically patterned whirl of a song, spiralling in intensity to an increasingly emphatic beat. More insistent yet, “Fandomas” maintains the up-tempo vibe as an arabesque vocal from, presumably, Xylouris, is exhorted by vigorous rounds of hand-clapping and malleted tambora. Robert Plant would love it.
“Run and La” is the album’s daybreak comedown, Xylouris picking and strumming gently, sounding finger-scrapes, and allowing the lute’s unique, tautly rubbery resonances to hang between the pulses of White’s receding accompaniment.
It seems it was known before Goats was recorded that it would be no one-off. Having already been blooded in a series of live performances and recording sessions in Greece, Australia, and New York, the duo sound both convivial and invigorated in this superb production by Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, and they are already said to be at work on a follow-up album. Great news.
George Xylouris lute; Jim White drums.
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Buy Goats direct from Other.