POZ Review: XO - Heart
by Ali Killian, edited by Erik van Rheenen
I went to Mellow Mushroom for the first time recently. The pizza parlor’s interior was packed with people, making the lunch rush even harder for the seemingly understaffed servers who openly sported dreadlocks and tattoos. The multicolored walls were adorned with drawings of mushrooms and bright artwork designed to encourage a mellow atmosphere. The black booth cushions were ripped. The music was low, but the patrons still shouted. Underneath the chaos, the playlist juggled surf rock and indie.
They should have added Heart to the rotation.
XO’s Rory Records debut is 11 tracks of melodic, groaning vocals smothered under a wall of indie with surf rock tendencies. Layers of instrumentation weave together to create one blanket of noise, and lead track “Instrumental 2” sets this tone for the entire record.
Yet, it’s possible to pick out each individual instrument, as the blink-182-like rhythm guitar demonstrates in “Waste.” The simultaneous resounding symbols and guitar swipes make the verses crash down around you like waves, while the instruments are more separate in the choruses. The soft tapping of the drums continues constantly, sewing the sections together. “Crazy” follows in the same vein; muddled verses give way to breathing sections with prominent rhythms.
Aside from those slight variations within the songs, much of the album sounds the same. It’s track after track of massive sound stifling droning vocals. “Sweet,” “Death” and “Hell” characterize most of the record, while a select few tracks, such as “Coast,” stick out for their clearer sound. That last track is contagiously upbeat and gives off a “fun in the sun” vibe reminiscent of early surf rock, maybe a consequence of the band relocating from Georgia to California.
This is a “chill hangout” album that would work well as background music when you want to avoid awkward moments of silence between conversations. Heart didn’t grab my emotions. The album is just there. It just is. There was no moment that stirred or engaged me. It acted as a static soundtrack to my note taking.
That’s not to say Heart is devoid of emotion; there’s plenty of heart and soul stuffed into these tracks. But that’s just it — the components are stuffed in. While the wall of sound was impressive when it first hit me, I felt like I was drowning under it throughout, with only brief respites for air. If creating an album that mimics the brashness of the ocean was this Say Anything side project’s goal, then they nailed it.
XO’s brand of indie is perfect for basement sessions with your best friends, or eating pizza in a psychedelic-themed shop “born out of the free-wheelin’ hippy culture of the 1970s.”