With the ambience and integrity of self-described ‘non-musician’ Brian Eno, and the direction and experimental approach of Terry Riley, XAM Duo’s self-entitled new album is the perfect soundtrack to 2016. The new ensemble, constructed in the hiatus of 2015’s ‘Tone Systems’, adding Christopher Duffin of Deadworms to the previously solo-performing Matthew Benn, reaches new heights of astral jazz, modular synths swirling with non-tonal tooting saxophones; smooth, immersive.

The latest offering ‘XAM Duo’ is bursting from the outset with ebb and flow, climax and delay, depth and light, both over the album as a whole and within each of the six individual tracks. Improvised throughout, the textures are immersive; deep and capacious, it is forever exploratory, continually moving and unfolding into new levels and spaces; never stopping, never stagnant. The first gambit, ‘Proem’, with its minimalist modular synthesizer improvisations and non-tonal sax toots, begins this extended exploration. The track also sets forth and is underpinned by a constant battle of chaos and order; a dichotomy playing a vital role over the course of the album in its entirety.

‘Pine Barrens’, with its synth whispers and arpeggiated undulating undercurrent, begins structured, regular before breaking down and reforming into transcendent textures, chaotic and somewhat menacing. However, this only seems to leading towards the climax of the album – ‘I Extend My Arms Pt I & II’. With its enveloping presence, the 23 minute-long track epitomises the very essence of record. It has a timeless, expansive quality that is as comforting and inviting as it is unstable. Moving from sustained synthesiser to astral, cosmic saxophone to rattling, jangling bells and punctuating woodwind toots, menacing bass to pop beats, the artists explore all possible realms. ‘Ashtanga’ then acts as a moment to come back after the climax of the central track; meditative, the reverb-drenched saxophone serenading the listener back into a stable soundscape. Even this, however, descends back into chaos as ‘The Test Dream’ enters, shrieking and uncomfortable.

Gripping, direct and driven, ‘XAM Duo’ explores the most cosmic levels and meditations, yet remains human, tender throughout, mirroring our own constant struggle between chaos and calm. The album remains poised, complete and collected despite the obvious ambition and density in material. A truly transfixing offering, the perfect conclusion to 2016 for XAM Duo.

Edited version of ‘I Extend My Arms’ taken from XAM Duo’s self-titled debut album, released on November 4, 2016.

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(Words by Louise Goodger)

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