As the spawn of two members of Say Anything’s live band, XO’s Heart is a mesmerizing crest of an album. Heart is an indie rocker’s wet dream, as it rides the waves of crunching fuzz guitar, before pounding it all into place with clean, pristine guitar strums and incredibly addictive bass lines. What results is an album that offers a genuine escape into the music with a haunting pattern that will draw you in even as it keeps you at an arm’s distance.
XO (made up of brothers Jake and Jeff Turner) seem to have a penchant for bringing their jam sessions to life on Heart. The songs feel simple at first glance, but are layered with a rich sheet of guitars and chord progression that never hide the rampaging bass lines. These are songs that are meant to be listened to while taking long walks, as the Hellogoodbye styled pop songs are topped off with the distorioned crackle of guitars designed to offer an almost psychedelic level of appreciation. The result feels like early Get Up Kids with a twinge of surf rock thrown in for good measure.
What prevails the most in Heart are the rampant guitars, creating the simple melodies that the songs are built on. They’re hypnotic and crunchy, almost acting as the bass section of the songs themselves, as it feels like every other instrument is being played on top of them. But it’s the pop of the lead guitars that lead the songs in the appropriate direction. Lead single “Waste” blasts wave after wave of fuzzing guitars as the rhythm of individual strings and bass take over and give the song some meat, marching the vocals forward.
“Death” is a solid jam, blazing lightly on the guitars on a simple up and down melody with synth punctuating the beat. The chorus guitars and layered synth create a magnificent depth and airiness against the repeated vocals of “I don’t have to die here, I don’t have to die”. “Never”, however, is the most traditional rock song on the album, nodding towards early Jimmy Eat World and delivering a chugging chorus with occasional breaks in momentum that just make its return all the more powerful.
While XO’s sound is a glorious nod to the indie genre, it is also their biggest fault. There isn’t a lot of branching out from the base formula that the songs are built on. The fuzzing guitars fume through most every song while the bass and strings add a haunted melody. While it gives the songs a cohesiveness and handcrafted quality, the formula isn’t tampered with as much as it could have been to really give each song its own personality. It’s good music, but at times it can be hard to tell some songs apart from each other.
The other personal gripe I have with the album is the volume of the vocals. They’re very relaxed and soft, melding into the songs themselves. While it created a dreamlike sound that doesn’t let the music be controlled by the vocals like many other bands, it can make them almost impossible to hear at times.
On a few songs, I was forced to listen multiple times just to hear what was being said. “Crazy” is one of the biggest offenders, and although it’s an incredibly catchy song with a sincere melody, I’m still not sure what most of the vocals are saying. That said, while the vocals are not the focus of the music, they’re not pushed or tested too hard, instead offering another mesmerizing hook into the songs.
Heart is a generous offering from XO that is meant to hypnotize and guide you and doesn’t allow itself to overpower or extend itself too hard. Each song is layered pop that will keep you attracted because of the incredible delivery and writing. However, while it has the ability to genuinely pull you in, Heart can just as easily distract you by withholding the variation in songwriting and style that the album needs to truly stand apart from the indie genre.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.