London based sisters Xylaroo talk us through the albums that shaped their emotional folk pop sound and themselves. Compare with their track ‘Sunshine’ (Below) and hear how the ages have devloped who Xylaroo are.
1.The Execution of All things – Rilo Kiley
Rilo Kiley is a band we both grew up with. They continue to be a staple in both of our musical diets and though everyone of their albums has certainly shaped us, “The Execution of All Things” is, in our minds, the best of a fine bunch. It’s one of their earliest albums and like so many other bands in their infancy they suggest in it a willingness to be peculiar and to experiment, to be raw and to be intimate. One thing that draws us so closely towards Rilo Kiley is their lyrics. They are dark yet hopeful, always thoughtful and tinged with sadness. They taste bitter sweet and yet accompany in such stark contrast simple, joyous, blissful and even cheerful melodies. ‘A Better Son/Daughter’, which both of us agree to be one of the most hopeful and uplifting songs that we know, is pretty much an anthem to us. It is, in our opinion, a must listen to; especially when you’re having one of those particularly bad days for no good reason at all. Actually, Rilo Kiley is one of the reasons I (Holly) started writing music. I wanted to write songs and to tell stories that resembled the weaving narratives and shifting moods and subject matters of this album. It moves so effortlessly amongst the personal, even mundane observations of the daily grind and yet also rises above it towards the profound and the philosophical.
2.The Con – Tegan & Sara
Although we don’t listen to Tegan & Sarah as much now ‘The Con’ was definitely an album that I (Coco) remember listening to as a teenager on repeat and it certainly influenced our early sound. Being sisters and singing such synchronized harmonies Tegan & Sara inspired us to incorporate more harmonies into our own music, as initially I (Coco) was a little hesitant and shy about singing. It did not come as naturally to me as it seemed to do for my sister. Listening to their sound inspired us to make the most of the similarities of our voices. I think what was really cool about Tegan and Sara and what I love about this album is their piercing and I would say androgynous vocals and also their angsty lyrics. It was cool to hear female singers who were so distinct and different to other female artists I was listening to at the time and that I could relate to. Tegan & Sara was one of the first big concerts I went to, actually on their U.K tour of The Con in 2008, and I remember thinking to myself after the show wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to do that.
3.Pastel Blues – Nina Simone
There is no disputing that Nina Simone is one of the greatest musicians of all time. Everything about her her voice, the way she played the keys, her lyricism and the way she interpreted covers was beautiful. Easily, I (Holly) could have picked any of her albums but decided to stick with Pastel Blues, as it includes some of my favorites and probably her most iconic renditions; “Strange fruit”, “Sinnerman” & “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out”. What I love most about this album and all of her music is her soulfulness you can feel the passion pouring out of her. Her songs have a sense of grandeur about them; she commands your attention and guides you through her songs with a firm and almost tidal urgency. Musicians like her don’t exist anymore, at least not in our generation, she exudes an emotional honesty and intensity which seems to have been lost in this time. ‘Strange Fruit’ is by far the most intense, an amazing song in it’s own right. I’ve never been drawn to Billie Holiday’s version as much. Nina’s is so much darker, so much more understated and so soaked in injustice and pain and anger. If you haven’t already listened to it you should…it’ll send shivers down your spine.
4. Elliot Smith – Either/Or
Between the Bars is definitely one of my (Coco) favorite songs ever and to be honest one of my go to songs when I’m drowning my sorrows; which is probably true in terms of my relationship with Elliott Smith’s music in general and for that I am extremely grateful. What I love about this album and Elliot’s music is the understated unapologetic raw production of it. What I really respect about Elliot Smith is his music, at least to me, doesn’t feel like entertainment or a performance but an outpouring and even sometimes a rambling therapy. His music is sincere and humble and seemed like it was for him more than it was for anyone else’s sake.
5.Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is an another artist that we grew up with as her debut album was a routine pick from our parents CD collection. I (Holly) remember listening to the songs on that album over and over again. I loved every one of them and still do today. Tracy Chapman is the kind of musician that is not afraid to be serious and political or to tackle controversial and somber subject matter. She tells human stories with an unromantic realism delving hard into domestic violence in “Behind the wall” or the racial tensions and segregation that still pervades the “Backstreets of America.” In this album she shows how she is not afraid to make her audience feel uncomfortable or to make them think. I reckon her music influenced the subject matter of our songs quite a bit, especially her serious tone. However, despite this seriousness her music is also uplifting and empowering, it is earthy, humble and raw. There is a whole lot of hope and love in songs such as “Talkin bout a revolution” or “Baby can I hold you Tonight.” Her voice is also incredibly distinct and somewhat androgynous. The uniqueness of her voice makes a Tracy Chapman song instantly recognisable. Like her voice, this album is certainly one of a kind, a diamond in the rough.