Combining the heavy rhythms of stoner rock, vocals that are a mix of Howlin’ Wolf growl and lighter harmonies, surging guitar and organ, and a rhythm section that understands when to stomp and when to dance, Tucson’s XIXA have made a fascinating rock record with their debut full-length, Bloodline (Barbes Records). The band, a collaboration between Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan of Giant Sand, is a brilliant example of artists using pieces of their heritage and reconfiguring those elements into something fresh and new.
Many of the best songs on Bloodline find virtue in a wild restlessness. The breakneck pace of the verses on “Vampiro” drift into a slower chorus, with Jason Urman’s keys providing the gravitational pull against which Sullivan’s guitar strains. “Pressures of Mankind” uses a crunching riff and furious organ with a vocal layered over rapid-fire bass and percussion to intersect Sabbath with the Ramones. This push-and-pull ratchets up the tension until a final explosion that thrillingly melts into a slinky samba.
“Dead Man” merges a big, swaggering groove with shadowy keys and guitar and one of the finest bass lines on the record by the great Geoffrey Hidalgo. The song looks at lost friends and that moment when someone doesn’t know their city any longer. “Killer” uses timbales, cowbell, woodblock accents, and perfectly simpatico bass and drums on a summer-breeze rhythm, while the song’s high-pitched vocal moves through a ’60s-esque lover man pastiche into darker, more complicated waters. The orgasm as death metaphor is given a calculated spin, with the seducer lying in wait to cause the destruction the narrator knows is coming as the guitar grows increasingly barbed and insistent until that anger boils over with the words, “My man, let’s be clear,” underscored by a burst of blood-dark organ.
Across the record, the restlessness of the music echoes the thematic material. The title track opens with a heavy stomp by drummer Winston Watson before roiling percussion accents by Efren Cruz Chavez set up a warm, world-weary growl of, “The spirit fades away. Bloodline is here to stay. The world comes unglued. All of it true.” Sullivan’s majestic solo here feels like huge truck tires trying to gain traction in sand, ground shifting and cracking all around. “World Goes Away” is sticky-slow and smoky with gorgeous acoustic guitar from Sullivan and timbales by Cruz Chavez, with the two vocals playing a stronger point-counterpoint to one another: “Ships come in every day to take us away,” up against “I promise you that I’ll return unto this land.” The chorus paints this despair over high organ and chiming guitar dancing through percussion and handclaps.
Bloodline is the first chapter in what one hopes is a long, epic career for XIXA, and a record that stands up to the past in an unflinching way, giving deference to its forbears but creating something sparkling and real that talks about today in direct turns. Its realness is as impressive as its soul.