George Xylouris is a lute player and singer from the Greek island of Crete. Jim White is the drummer of Australian post-rock heroes the Dirty Three, and he’s also played with people like Cat Power and PJ Harvey. Xylouris and White are the two members of Xylouris White, a duo who make spacey and otherworldly psychedelic folk music. I was deeply impressed when I saw them play the Basilica Soundscape festival a few years ago. And today, they’re announcing a new album that’s coming out this fall.
The new LP The Sisypheans follows last year’s Mother, and it’s inspired by the metaphor-rich Greek myth of Sisyphus, the man doomed to push the same boulder up the same hill for all eternity and then to watch it roll back down again. The former Fugazi co-leader Guy Picciotto produced the album, just as he did with the last three Xylouris White albums.
First single and album opener “Tree Song” is an expansive, head-spun seven-minute take on a traditional Greek song. Xylouris sings it in Greek, and it’s mostly his song; White’s drums are just accents. The video comes from director Jem Cohen, mostly known for the great Fugazi documentary Instrument, with Shelagh Hannan. The clip consists entirely of long, static, evocative images of beautiful landscapes, sometimes with Xylouris and White slowly walking across them. Below, check out the video and read what White has to say about the new album.
As George Xylouris and I traveled around these last five years, we found ourselves talking about Sisyphus. George had a theory about Sisyphus, condemned to climb that hill with that rock forever. George saw him carrying the rock in different ways, in his left hand, behind his back, pushing it with his head while crawling and noticing each journey the seasons changing, the grass and the insects. The meaning was clear and for George it fit with playing the popular Cretan song “Proto Hanoti” many turns each day for his life and discovering it new each time…. I found it fit in with a long held set of thoughts I’d had, that if one concentrated activity and thought enough on one thing it would expand and be a whole world. It sounded like the same idea and also with the idea of first principles, for it to be new each time: that is our job as musicians. We would talk about this as we traveled playing music. One day a waitress heard us talking, and she asked if we knew the Camus essay about Sisyphus. We didn’t, but I got it in English and then we found it in Greek and it fit too. When we were playing in Louisville and working on Black Peak, we stayed at a house and saw the artwork you see on the cover, by Elsa Hansen Oldham … We’d finished the circular trilogy of Goats, Black Peak, and Mother, and we found ourselves making The Sisypheans. What we do leads us to who we are, the Sisypheans.
01 “Tree Song”
02 “Goat Hair Bow”
03 “Heart’s Eyes”
04 “Telephone Song”
05 “Black Sea”
07 “Wedding Song”
The Sisypheans is out 11/8 on Drag City.