2015 was the year of XL Recordings rising stars and sisters Ibeyi. 2016 boasts a new sister act destined for greatness, and we have Rob Da Bank to thank in bringing them to our attention. Holly and Coco Chant, who are now better known under their whimsical act name Xylaroo, released their debut album ‘Sweetooth’ on Da Bank’s Sunday Best label. Prior to its release, they racked up support from Radio X’s John Kennedy on BBC 6 Music’s indie champion Steve Lamacq. No small feat indeed. One thing you should be aware of from the get-go with Xylaroo: prepare to be surprised.
But what made me stand up and notice the pair was an acoustic (dubbed ‘Home Sessions’) version they did of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’. The stripped-back approach Xylaroo took to one of the Sheffield band’s biggest hits added an unexpected fragility through their expressive voices. The sisters tapped into an entirely new facet to an otherwise one-dimensional, annoyingly frenetic tune I never warmed up to. It was a conversation starter, if there ever was one.
Their first single, ‘Sunshine’, may come as a shock after you learn about their globetrotting upbringing. The song features a quote from Dolly Parton, yet after being bounced around the world to follow the career of their civil engineer father, the sisters started gigging in Maidstone, Kent. They spent 10 of their nearly 25 years of life there, “around the Medway scene where all the bands were doing ska”. Not exactly where you’d imagine the beginning of a duo more aligned with the dulcet, harmonious tones of fellow sisters First Aid Kit than The Specials. The sisters are quick to point out that it was during their time living and going to school in Sri Lanka that they picked up a simpler way of performing, watching locals sing and play the guitar.
The sweet sound of ‘On My Way’ is jarred by the mention of black magic practitioner Aleister Crowley, drug use, a 2-day drinking binge and the gaily sung lyrics “I’m on my way to hell”. If this is the way to the River Styx, it couldn’t be any more enticing. Same goes for minor key masterpiece ‘Consume Me’, with its references to cannabis, coke and lust. The title of ‘Set Me on Fire and Send Me to Canada’ seems oddly prescient of the minds of some Remain voters post-Brexit, but it’s actually a saxophone-tinged, upbeat yet wistful number. If the Chant sisters were locked in a room with the Soderbergs, would they get along famously? Or would there be dead silence? Until that meeting happens, we’ll just delight in the wonderful melodies and harmonies Xylaroo have gifted us.
‘Sweetooth’, the debut album by Xylaroo, is available now from Sunday Best / PIAS.