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Review by Alyson Stokes | February 20, 2014 at 1:00 PM

With their debut full-length album Heart, indie rock duo XO — comprised of Say Anything guitarists/vocalists Jake and Jeff Turner — make a clean-cut departure from Say Anything’s popular upbeat sound and create what they call “a more cerebral experience” by placing emphasis on musical experience rather than lyrics.

“The lyrics are definitely important to the music but the music is the guide, causing/releasing tension when needed…we have been approaching the music more like an orchestra of guitars, switching tunings almost every song, to create specific vibrations and hums, that drone along for a more cerebral experience.”

And that’s exactly what XO do with Heart. The brief instrumental intro establishes the album’s tone, setting the pace for unique, heavy instrumentals that remain the focus throughout all eleven tracks. Heart picks up with “Waste,” a track that begins to paint a picture for the entire album — a picture that leaves listeners longing for the sunny, Southern California Coast, contrary to the album’s February release. With their airy instrumentals and mellow chord progressions of the following tracks “Sweet” and “Coast,” XO provide a sense of summertime innocence and a definite, low-key beach vibe.

“Death” and “Crazy” make up two of the more solemn tracks on the album with much heavier guitar chords and ominous lyrics. It is here that overall ambience and experience can be recognized as important elements to the album as the actual lyrics are pushed to the backburner, and the music is presented as a dynamic forefront. But, even though the lyrics aren’t necessarily said to be the most important aspect of the album, that doesn’t make them any less deep or thought-provoking — lines like “Don’t stop. Keep holding on / The worst part is letting go / Hold back… You’re the one that should be leaving / Wasting all my time / It took me years to finally realize. Crazy.” will still blow your mind with their poignancy.

“Hell” is the second to last song on the album, and it can easily be seen as the album’s staple track. Judging by title alone, you might expect the song to be angry, but it’s simply just about an honest heartbreak. The lyrics are heard loud and clear in this one — “I just don’t know what to do / I think I’m lost without you / It hurts like hell deep inside.”

One of the most interesting aspects to the album is that each track title is one word, either an adjective or noun that could describe the heart and/or its state of being. The album’s closing title track lacks any lyrics and is strictly instrumental, which once again emphasizes XO’s focus on the experience of sound.

Heart is an album created for listeners who want to let go and experience something new and magical without getting tangled up in words. So grab some headphones or hop in your car with the windows down because it’s a unique experience you don’t want to miss.

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