Electronic music is cold and soulless. You’ve heard this truism from an acquaintance. They are wearing a Pink Floyd shirt. They refuse to believe that knobs and buttons have the same emotional capacities as strummed guitars. Point them to this debut album from San Francisco’s Xyla. This gorgeous record serves a kind of sonic affogato. A cold scoop of techno gets a warming touch of house. Our spoon is heaped with comforting ambient swirls. Suddenly, we get the espresso kick of footwork.
On paper, Xyla’s music is a collage of styles. Across the opening tracks, ambience gradually builds into understated IDM, which vanishes back into cloud. Subwoofer booms and steady claps meet fidgety percussive details. Loops of organic vocals bring a sudden soulfulness. The title track is similarly eclectic. Clean background tones sing through. Synthetic strings sound a chiptune refrain. Stuttering hi-hats roll, leading into syncopated drum patterns. What binds all this together? Or does it disperse as intoxicating vapour?
In practice, the album doesn’t magpie shiny elements from different genres. It enacts a dialectic process of thesis and antithesis. A chilled jazz sample meets a frantically modulating beat. A sing-off occurs between organic and processed snatches of vocals. Cacophonies of birdsong and drum compete for attention. The same glimpsed melody appears in natural tones, then in space-age synth. On the final track, Xyla’s footwork influence appears with jittery beats and sculpted repetitions of vocal bursts. Long bass tones and swathes of ambience create a calm frame; inside, the maniacal gyroscope paradoxically spins.
It’s hard to pinpoint how, but Xyla brings synthesis to these contradictory elements. She makes us feel each miniature sonic reality. The result is a unified album with a consistency of artistic vision. Nowadays, anyone with a laptop can produce electronic music. The quantity of sub-genres and micro-scenes is dizzying. Xyla brings a welcome reminder: quality sound design, composition, and curation are what really matter. As winter begins, this fortifying album beckons in from the cold. I hope it takes a rightful spot on some year-end lists. (Samuel Rogers)