Sonic Cathedral will release the self-titled debut album by XAM Duo – the new outfit formed by Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall – on November 4. Its six tracks of improvised ambient beauty are both meditative and peaceful. It is astral jazz with an experimental kosmische undercurrent; modular synths meet saxophones; Cluster meets Terry Riley; Laurie Spiegel meets Pharoah Sanders; Ohr meets Impulse!. A warm, immersive and downright musical record, it rewards repeat listens.
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Photograph by Jed Skinner
XAM was originally Matthew’s solo project, the name borrowed from the closing song of latter-day Dusseldorf-via-Detroit cult classic ‘Subway II’. He recorded a number of tracks at home between Hookworms albums in 2014 which were released last year as the ‘Tone Systems’ EP on Deep Distance. Following the EP’s release, there were offers to play live, solo, for the first time.
“It was all very daunting,” Matthew explains. “I found travelling to and playing shows by myself quite a lonely experience after having been in bands for the last 10 years, so I began thinking about collaboration.” Inspired to mix his electronics with saxophone, Rhodes piano and other acoustic instrumentation after playing live shows alongside the likes of Sun Araw and Bitchin Bajas, he began his search for collaborators.
Fortuitously, Christopher had just recorded with Matthew’s Hookworms bandmate MJ, who put the two in touch. The magic was there right from the off. “I’d been looking for an outlet for a while to play more saxophone and focus on electronics,” says Christopher. “So MJ gave Matthew my details and the first time we ever played together was in Suburban Home Studio, and that totally improvised session makes up about half of the record.”
“It felt like we really clicked musically,” adds Matthew. “I think it’s amazing that people will be able to hear literally the first time we ever played music together on this album, the first exploratory moments of us tip-toeing round each other and trying to settle on our sound and work each other out. In some ways it might sound like an extension of Hookworms: lots of repetition and easy to zone out to. But in other ways this is my outlet for exploring my love of more self-indulgent, extended electronic music.”
“Deadwall are very much a song and arrangement based band,” says Christopher, who sees XAM Duo as a reaction to his day job. “It was really nice to spend some time slowing things down and concentrating on vibe, feel and the immediacy of improvisation.”
“We like to record as many practices and shows as we can,” reveals Matthew. “You never know when one of those magic moments will happen, and you may never be able to recreate it.”
Christopher says he approaches each song as a “mini-soundtrack to an imaginary film that doesn’t exist yet” and reveals that, while he was practising at home, he played along to clips of ‘There Will Be Blood’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Synecdoche, New York’ to get the requisite atmosphere. Live sets are also completely improvised, meaning no two shows are ever the same.
“I appreciate that improvised music isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I love doing,” Matthew concludes. “And, more often than not, Chris and I create something beautiful together.”
The full tracklisting of ‘XAM Duo’ is:
2. Pine Barrens
3. I Extend My Arms Pt I & II
5. The Test Dream
XAM Duo play the following live dates:
September 27 – Leeds – Brudenell Social Club (with Michael Rother)
October 14 – Leeds – Wharf Chambers (with Sealings)
November 1 – Leeds – Belgrave Music Hall (with Anna Meredith)
November 24 – Leeds – Wharf Chambers (with The Early Years)
November 25 – Manchester – Aatma (with The Early Years)
November 26 – Newcastle – Cumberland Arms (with The Early Years)