XIXA’s Bloodline

cover artXIXA’s dual frontmen, Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan, seem to have internalized the Tucson musical ethos of collaboration and inclusivity epitomized by Giant Sand and Calexico. It’s no mystery, since the two have played with both of those bands, the best known of the Sonoran city’s fiercely independent acts, both of which excel at cross-cultural collaborations.

Bloodline is the full-length followup to 2015’s extended-play release Shift and Shadow and it more fully fleshes out the vision and sound put forth on that EP. XIXA plays a uniquely Tucson take on the Peruvian music called chicha, a kind of psychedelic-rock version of cumbia. I don’t know which of the elements that make up XIXA’s heady melting-pot of crazy Latino rock come from chicha and which are their own, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is dance-inducing, head-banging, mind-meltingly fun music.

The two are Tucson natives with Latino heritage, part of a sizable community of second- and third-generation members of immigrant families. Their first band together was a chicha cover band, inspired by music they found on a compilation of ’70s Peruvian music. They gathered some like-minded musicians for that band, which morphed into the current sextet XIXA after they started writing their own songs. They are more guitar-oriented, and rock harder, along the lines of fellow Arizona stalwarts like Meat Puppets and Queens of the Stone Age, but with that Peruvian influence.

For instance the opening title track, a beguiling Tucson blend of twangy baritone guitar and grungey psychedelic electric axe (with numerous other elements) over a beat that combines cumbia sway and hard rock stomp. Or “Vampira” with its Mexi-punk beat, and a galloping surf guitar playing a faux-horror melody right out of Southern Culture on the Skids. “Golden Apparition” has a bit of a reggae feel to the beat, but “Pressures of Mankind” is all bluesy power chords, chicha-rock and swirling organ, sort of Steppenwolf meets rock en EspaƱol.

The tenor Lopez and baritone Sullivan trade vocal duties from song to song and sometimes verse to verse, as they do on the song that is my favorite, in spite of being a bit of an anomaly on this record. “World Goes Away” is where that spirit of collaboration comes in, as they build the song around the loping West African desert blues, a co-write with Sadam Iyah of the group Imarhan, formerly of Tinariwen. Appropriately, the song is about refugees and borders and immigrants leaving behind the familiar for a new life somewhere else. In addition to XIXA’s usual elements like droning organ and layers of percussion and electronics, it has Iyad’s chiming electric guitar, a lovely acoustic guitar solo, catchy chorus, and vocals by all three co-writers. You can listen to “World Goes Away” on the KCRW website.

XIXA is making a kind of music that’s unique in the U.S. as far as I know. It’s socially conscious hard rock with cumbia and other Latin influences. It’s novel, but definitely not novelty.

(Barbes/Glitterhouse, 2016)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.