Xeno & Oaklander
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One of the key acts reviving and updating the sounds of '80s coldwave and minimal electronic bands for the 21st century, Brooklyn's Xeno & Oaklander combine crisp analog synths with poetic songwriting and vocals. Throughout their career, they've made the most of their self-imposed limitations -- their kit frequently consists of little more than a sequencer, a handful of synths, and a simple drum machine or two -- to create dark synth pop that is more than the sum of its parts. Xeno & Oaklander's clearly defined aesthetic nevertheless leaves plenty of room for nuance. They have explored different side of their music with each release, from the raw experiments of 2004's Vigils to increasingly structured and polished efforts such as 2009's Sentinelle and 2019's Hypnos.
Prior to forming Xeno & Oaklander, Maryland native Sean McBride learned about vintage modular synthesizers at his college's electronic music lab. Eventually, he developed a system of synths, sequencers, and rhythm machines that became a standard live setup for his own projects Moravagine and Martial Canterel and for New York's other emerging synth acts. In 2003, he met Liz Wendelbo, a French/Norwegian musician who is also a conceptual artist, filmmaker, and photographer. Soon after, the pair began recording music in an abandoned factory building near the East River. Recorded in one continuous take, Xeno & Oaklander's self-released 2006 debut album, Vigils, put them at the forefront of 21st century groups drawing inspiration from the minimal wave movement of the '80s. The duo moved to the influential New York label Wierd Records for 2009's Sentinelle, which presented a more polished and structured take on Wendelbo and McBride's music. They incorporated hints of darkwave, Italo disco, and techno into their sound on 2011's Sets & Lights, a set that became their final album for Wierd, which folded shortly afterward. In 2013, Xeno & Oaklander added more nuance to their music with the single "Sheen for Electric Voice" and wrote a soundtrack for Swiss artist Fabian Marti. The duo landed at Ghostly for 2014's Par Avion, an album inspired by synesthesia and featuring an analog Serge Modular synth. During these sessions, McBride and Wendelbo also recorded 2015's Movements, a 35-minute piece inspired by travel in space and time commissioned by the National Center for the Arts, Grenoble, and Ecole du Magasin. In 2016, the duo returned to Ghostly for the release of their fifth full-length, Topiary. Recorded at Tom Tom Club's Connecticut-based Clubhouse Studio, Topiary was the first Xeno & Oaklander album to be sung entirely by Wendelbo. In 2017, they issued the ambient cassette Movements II, which was only available on their tour that May; in October, the bossa nova-tinged single "Moonlight" appeared. In March 2019, Xeno & Oaklander released their Dais Records debut Hypnos, a set of mythologically influenced songs that marked the duo's return to using polyphonic synths.