The word xenograft will, for most, conjure up those wonderful pictures of the mouse with a human ear on it’s back, but this Xenograft is more like a serpent’s tail on your back. This four-track EP takes you through the spectrum of avant garde post-jazz, post-metal, crunky progressive rock that this Melbourne band produces, and leaves you wanting more.
Often you can hear a band live and enjoy it but then be disappointed by their recorded music. There’s no doubt that the experience of listening to the Xenograft EP is a different one from their live shows, and for good reason. Live and with their local crowd calling out their names and generally going wild, they turn that energy into a loud, tight improv experience. When they play with their Siamese twins Fritzwicky, you have a night on your hands that tears the venue a new hole. It’s all a bit like being on the set of the classic cult film “Reefer Madness”.
Instead of trying to recreate the live experience, the EP is a great demonstration of the solid and intricate foundations that those performances are based on. It’s not background music and you need to clear your head before listening. You can dance if you like, but I don’t think there’s a name for the dance you’ll do. Put away anything breakable first.
I guess I should throw in some indicators of their sound here, so lets reluctantly go with the likes of King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Fierce and the Dead and Empty Space Orchestra. There’s a huge metal sound in there that breaks free once in a while, lots of jazz, and I probably should mention that they don’t have vocals.
The six hugely talented guys in Xenograft, many of whom play in other Melbourne bands too, are well led by founder and main songwriter Jarrad Will on bass. “Pineal” opens the EP with some trippy electronics for a minute before the rest of the band join in. It’s noisy, free of extraneous devices like melody, and if you try to follow the beat you might be missing the point. Each instrument takes the same road and they come together at a set of lights or a narrow bridge, but there are no simple harmonies and chord progressions at work here.
“Alien Gods” starts with what I’ll call a Spanish classical guitar sound backed with keyboard that’s possibly indulged in some chemicals before the sax and bass crash in and start laughing at them. A bit of a discussion follows and things get a bit heated before it all turns a bit, well, a bit “Italian Spiderman” (YouTube that if you’re not sure what I mean). Like the first track, this runs at just over six minutes.
By the third track everyone seems to be getting on a lot better. They are still all mad, but they start getting some rolling phrases going; at one point perhaps a little repetitive. The joke’s on the listener though, and nearing the end of nine-minute “Eastern Nights”, a smooth and very cool bass and sax line suddenly… actually forget it, I won’t ruin it for you.
Title track “Exit” is short and sweet as you like. Chugging guitar, brilliant drumming and lots more noise.
In my view, the wonder of music lies in finding something new, unfamiliar, and exciting. The most rewarding in the long run is often the most challenging at the start, and “Exit” by Xenograft fits the bill. I’ll leave you with a quote from the cover notes:
“A large portion of this record was written in a dark room, late at night in a non-ordinary state of consciousness and is probably best enjoyed as such”.