Xeno & Oaklander (Photo by Liz Wendelbo)
There is no more glorious sight to my eyes than a tabletop of modular synthesizers. And cold wave duo Xeno & Oaklander recently arrived at Pie Shop in DC with a fantastic array of modular synthesizers in rugged cases. They were beautiful things indeed, and Sean McBride and Liz Wendelbo used them to create hauntingly beautiful music.
Early in the Pie Shop show on March 31, Xeno & Oaklander mesmerized the crowd with “Hypnos,” the title track to their 2019 album (released via Dais Records). Liz sang in a sweeping, mysterious vocal while Sean grooved over polyphonic synths.
Hypnos marked the duo’s sixth full-length studio album, and their first for Dais, which specializes in electronic artists ranging from the seductively poppy to the jaggedly discordant. Xeno & Oaklander definitely weigh in on the “seductively poppy” side of the scale. This was my first experience seeing the band live, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much their sonic output reminded me more of more European acts like Norwegians Röyksopp.
In 2021, Xeno & Oaklander released Vi/deo, their latest record on Dais, and the duo spotlighted that album at Pie Shop as well. The band manifested the urgent “Infinite Sadness” as an ecstatic dance track, which you wouldn’t immediately deduce from its title. Xeno & Oaklander display visuals composed by Liz on the screen behind them, and pictures of Liz herself, looking thoughtfully melancholy, flashed behind them as the real live person herself danced across the stage in an interesting contrast of still life to motion.
Watch a lyric video for “Infinite Sadness” by Xeno & Oaklander on YouTube:
Although Liz served as the primary vocalist, Sean occasionally sang as well, particularly on some older numbers. They teamed to great effect, for example, on “Sets & Lights” from their 2011 album of the same name. Sean’s bellowing voice went low and Liz’s dreamy falsetto went high for “Sets & Lights,” which is replete with references to Un Chien Andalou, the surrealist film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. Over doomy synths, Sean intoned “They players weary every night” and “They slash their arms, slash their eyes,” and Liz soothed words between those lines — “The sets of Dalí” then “The light of Buñuel.”
It should be noted that Liz wasn’t the only visual artist in the room. The impossibly cool Egan Frantz, Liz’s husband, could be spied floating around the soundboard, tablet in hand to control sound and/or lights, as the show progressed. Frantz, son of famed Talking Heads musicians Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, recently made his debut as a video director for Xeno & Oaklander’s “Afar,” a wonderful French disco song, which I think was *not* performed on March 31 (although I could be sadly mistaken).
Xeno & Oaklander were all together brilliant, and the small but euphoric crowd at Pie Shop was thrilled to be in the room with the groundbreaking synth artists. Many of us danced the night away without a care in the world; others quietly absorbed the otherworldly melodies of the music. Whatever your disposition, Xeno & Oaklander offered food for your soul.
I believe Xeno & Oaklander are committed to returning to the DMV as Sean originally hails from DC, but I’m also a bit peeved they aren’t as heralded here as, say, Boy Harsher and other groups that have followed in their wake.
Xeno & Oaklander are making remarkable art and will undoubtedly captivate you on their current USA tour (which includes a few dates with French legends Martin Dupont).
When you see Xeno & Oaklander, be sure to arrive early to catch an energizing solo set by Sean McBride as Martial Canterel.
It was very dark in Pie Shop, but here are a very few pictures of Xeno & Oaklander, in silhouette, performing there on March 31, 2023.