"Feelings are the message, rhythm is the journey, the machines are tools".. So said Greek lutist and singer George Xylouris in an interview for The Wire magazine.
Jim White, the Australian drummer who has been his musical partner since 2013, believes that "if one concentrated activity and thought enough on one thing it would expand to become the whole world."
Suffice to say, these reflections treat music as an emotional expression rather than simply a money-making commodity.
The title of this album derives from the mythical figure of Sisyphus who as punishment for his sins was condemned to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again when he neared the top. He had to repeat this action for eternity.
For French existential writer Albert Camus, Sisyphus was symbolic of the absurd world in which we endlessly seek to complete meaningless tasks without ever gaining true fulfillment. In other words, our destiny to forever try and fail.
Xylouris has a more positive interpretation of the myth, observing that no matter how often he repeats the same tune, there was always something new to discover. Familiarity does not breed contempt but opens up fresh possibilities.
Half of the eight tracks on 'The Sisypheans' are based on lyrics to traditional Greek songs, including the opening Tree Song. This is a mournful lament which, according to the English translation of the lyrics, relates a parable of "a fine and handsome soldier" who cannot find his home and turns to a tree to provide shelter and sustenance.
On Heart's Eyes, Dee Hannan's female backing vocals provide a welcome contrast to Xylouris's doleful voice but do not add much levity to another sorrowful song.
Indeed, the prevailing mood throughout the album is forlorn and world-weary. I assume that the lyrics to Wedding Song are not bleak or negative but the melancholy tone means it would not be out of place at a wake. Ascension at least closes the album in a livelier manner.
Fans of White's drumming with The Dirty Three may feel disappointed that they are not more examples of his intuitive style. He is mostly content to take a back seat to Xylouris' lute or lyra playing, confining himself to understated percussive punctuation to the traditional instrumentation and never overwhelming his partner's plaintive vocals. playing comes into its own for the dramatic climax to Black Sea and in more upbeat tunes like Telephone Song and the hypnotic Inland. The former has a bluesy feel which is not a million miles from the African blues of Ali Farka Touré.
Xylouris and White are not going to get rich from their fourth album of collaborative sounds but you have to be thankful that there are still hugely talented artists around who are prepared to buck conventional trends and follow their own creative instincts.
Xylouris White's website