Who is Xander Harris? I suppose if you’re a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer you might think you know who Xander Harris is, but you’d only be partially correct. Xander Harris is the nom de plume of a fictional Joss Whedon character, yes, but it is also the nom de plume of Justin Sweatt, an electronic musician that’s been putting out solidly eerie and seductive synth-layered records for nearly 7 years now. I’ve only recently discovered him but I’m becoming a fan quickly. His most recent LP, the wonderfully dystopian Termination Dust, is a tour-de-force of heavy atmosphere and apocalyptic techno that would be one hell of a soundtrack for the world’s end. Since we’re not quite at the apocalypse just yet, why not delve into Harris’ past musical accomplishments? His 2013 release The New Dark Age Of Love caught my eye so I snagged a copy on vinyl. It’s not quite as dystopian as Termination Dust, but equally compelling and sounds like what would’ve happened had Depeche Mode or New Order delved a little deeper into horror and science fiction instead of the same old love, sex, drugs, and self-hatred racket. But don’t think Harris’ record is that simple to break down. There’s a lot going on. Open your ears and check it out.
“Night Fortress” is the opening salvo and in terms of the more current Xander Harris output it seems brighter. It reminds me a bit of earlier Flying Lotus, but with a Gothic flair. There’s definitely more of a dance floor, techno feel. Umberto with some meat on his bones. It’s a sleek track that grabs the ears right off the bat. “Tristitia” brings things down into more darker territory. More 80s and heavy darkness looming. With it’s steady, driving beat you feel like you’re being transported into some dystopian future. “I Still Look Young In The Dark” is a wonky, frantic track that could be scoring some cyberpunk version of The Picture Of Dorian Gray. It’s frantic pace and use of sound snippets gives the song an almost remix feel. It’s quite an effective track.
Though Harris can use the horror/sci fi vibe in his music with the best of them, he doesn’t rely on horror tropes to sell his work. First and foremost, Xander Harris is a composer. Before it elicits creepy vibes, Harris’ work elicits the desire to keep listening. One shot, sleazy synth tracks are all fine but you’ve really got to separate the wheat from the chaff nowadays. Xander Harris is the real thing. Take something like “Vultures Of Tenderness”, for example. It sweeps in on a pulsating synth line, pulls you in, and then you stick around for the groove. There’s some sleaze in there, but his use of percussive lines keeps you engaged long enough to get to the Terminator center of this music nugget.
Not sure if Harris is a fan of Zombi(the band, not the film), but “Bring Me Their Heads” brings to mind the excellent Moore/Paterra duo. This has a real Escape Velocity vibe. Given that both of these records came out in 2013, maybe there was some weird psychic connection? Only Zenauras, the Psychic God of Happenstance knows that answer. With “Red Sky Sprawl” we’re treated to some deep space dark ambient. This track goes full Komische, Berlin School vibes and I love every minute of it. Simply gorgeous. “When Prophecy Fails” keeps that heady Tangerine Dream vibe going. Think Phaedra scoring Ridley Scott’s Alien, with a healthy dose of some all natural hallucinogen on top.
There’s something very personal about this record. It feels like a young man’s story told in percussive rhymes and syncopated circuits. It is android perfection with a human heart set inside a metal chest. The New Dark Age Of Love is steely, ominous, and alluring. This record is another reason to put Xander Harris at the top of the list of “artists to binge in 2018”.