XAM Duo – the Yorkshire-based pairing of Matthew Benn and Christopher Duffin – follow up their acclaimed self-titled 2016 debut with a new album, XAM Duo II, which is released via Sonic Cathedral on June 17. It will be available on two vinyl variants (standard black and Bandcamp exclusive green), as well as CD, cassette and digitally.
The first single from the album, ‘Blue Comet’, is out now on all digital platforms. Watch the video by Innerstrings below.
Despite being over five years in the making, the new album is a more concise affair than their debut, clocking in at just under 30 minutes.
“I like how this record can be used in a functional way while setting out on your day, doing chores,” says Christopher Duffin. “It’s not quite meditative but it can certainly help pull you into that state and out of it again. And 26 minutes is just enough – self-love becomes selfish after that. We don’t want to be selfish!”
XAM Duo have spent the past few years making a collaborative album with Virginia Wing and the fun single ‘Tisch Tennis’, as well as playing live with everyone from Stereolab, Sonic Boom and Michael Rother to Jessy Lanza, The Necks and Anna Meredith. They are also both members of Holodrum, the band formed from the ashes of Hookworms whose debut album came out earlier this year.
“Our live set for the last few years has almost always been this new record played in order, from start to finish, and it seemed to work in that context,” says Matthew Benn. “I like records to be a bit of a story or journey with peaks and troughs and lots of dynamics and space.”
The journey begins and ends with the beat-driven ‘Blue Comet’ and ‘Cold Stones’, taking in shorter ambient jams along the way, making use of saxophone, drawn out tape chords, floating Rhodes piano and spaced out synths, alongside very precise and intentional, sequenced and punchy synth tones.
“I think it’s a product of the music we were listening to at the time, the capabilities of the gear we were using and the fact that we didn’t record any part of this record together at the same time,” explains Duffin of the new approach, which saw most of the tracks being written with an external sequencer/MIDI computer rather than just a modular system as before.
“The inspiration was mainly artists making the most of the advent of FM synthesis, computer programming and newer digital technology in the ’80s, as well as contemporary music reminiscent of the same period,” says Benn, who name-checks Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Visible Cloaks, Sun Araw and Susumu Yokota. Duffin also adds Lol Coxhill and Morgan Fisher’s Slow Music, Copy Musicby Helena Celle’s Imaginal Designs, James Holden’s The Inheritorsand Evan Parker With Birds to the impressive list of influences.
“‘Blue Comet’ came from wanting to conjure up a similar feeling to tracks like ‘Slip’ by Autechre and the more melodic Aphex Twin stuff,”explains Benn. “Emotional computer music, I guess you could call it.”
It’s not just an emotional record, however, but also a very elemental one. With the digital approach it could feel cold and processed, but it’s the opposite – warm and natural. This is something that is reflected in the striking artwork by long-time collaborator Jonathan Wilkinson which comes from a series of prints inspired by his time hiking around the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire.
“We felt they really closely mirrored the music we had been making,”explains Benn. “The green, earthy colours, the minimalist take on nature, as well as knowing that they were based on places very close to home and heart.”
The post-lockdown mixing of the record also saw them returning to another home – the studio complex where they recorded their debut which had been shut down and fallen derelict in the interim. “I like the fact we’re finally back in the same room again,” says Duffin. “There’s been so much change since we innocently put a record together in 2016 but we’re still at it and working together.”
One thing that has stayed the same is the influence of The Sopranos, with three of the six tracks on the album named after episodes of the classic TV series.
“It started off as a bit of a joke on the first record when we were stuck for titles,” laughs Benn. “A lot of the episode titles are very evocative and a few of them just happened to sit very naturally with the way some of our music was sounding. The next record will probably be Succession themed.”