Boomkat Product Review:
Chrome-plated sound design and bristling textures frame the latest speculative sci-fi experiment from Xao, meshing sonic concepts inspired by Rabit, Visionist and Lotic into the cybernetic scapes of Hyph11E or Algorave proponent Renick Bell.
Xao has been working alongside the C.A.N.V.A.S. label since the beginning, and his second album builds on the promise of 2019's Astral Black-released "Eternal Care Unit", by burying some of his most recognisable inspirations into an algorithmic shimmer of vaporous sound design and cyborg percussion. The roots of ‘Wirehead’ can be traced to the mid 2010s obsession with shaping global club echoes and videogame FX into music that accurately scored our descent into digital dystopia, but Xao makes a clear link between those ideas and the brain-fried cyberpunk vistas of William Gibson. His guiding theme is the idea of the contemporary digital attention economy with its algorithmically-powered tidal wave of content, and the mental states that follows - employing procedural and algorithmic compositional methods to shatter this status quo, reaching in the direction of a proposed "digital spirituality" in the process.
On opening track 'Bone Theory', he burns fragments of death metal into warped airlock club stumbles, welding evocative, clanging sound design to tempered forms of weightless grime and gravel-throated trap. 'Aqua Tofana' is more fucked, sounding like a frosted-glass take on Autechre's latter day post-electro rhythms, or an algorithm-warped AI rendition of Lanark Artefax's 'Touch Absence', while 'Hyperfixate For Me' stutters barely-audible vocals beneath cracked Vladislav delayed percussion and the corrupted data throb of guitar noise and loopy synthesis.
The rest of the album plays like a Johnny Mnemonic-style braindump: the last few years of underground electronic music melted into a frayed patchwork of textures, rhythms and sonic signifiers. It comes to a head on 'I Wed My Shadow', when opera singer Marie Requa Gailey's voice just about cuts through the static like a candle in the dark, making the escape route from the techno dystopia just about visible. Moments later we're exposed to the corrosive 'Ophanim Plushie' - all jazz clatter and anodised rolls, accompanied by drones and squashed breaks that barely make it off the surface. By the time we reach the album's final track 'Threnody for the Child of Omelas', it’s all repair and recovery, twisting beatless echoes from strangled neural networks into blankets of aesthetic warmth.
Wirehead is a smart album that fits well into the deconstructed club/post-club lineage, deploying hyperkinetic sound design and a whelming flux of feelings echoing contemporary classics in its progressive field by TCF or Lee Gamble or indeed the same algo-powered artificiality as James Ferraro, or even the hyperpop set, fused with nu-metal and dembow somewhere between Arca and Oxhy.