with Only Thieves,
Dish, the Royal,
9 p.m. Thursday,
For the record, I just wanted to play some Wii.
Local indie pop band XOXO have just recorded their debut EP, C'est la Vie, and after about a year of intensive name-building, playing every regional show they could get their hands into — not to mention this year's South by Southwest Music Festival — it's time I got to know them.
But I've been pummeled by a head cold for going on a week now and I could really use some fun, something that XOXO happen to specialize in. From their scattershot tour blogs hosted by Orlando Sentinel to the infuriatingly sunny rainbow beaming out from a guitar case on their album cover, to say nothing of their now-famously cute band name that translates to "hugs and kisses," who better to shake me out of my funk? To make things even more impossibly exultant, perennially merry Jeff Ilgenfritz of Mumpsy produced C'est la Vie. And he just bought a Wii. "I've been totally downloading everything with Mario or Zelda/Link from the old consoles. Valhalla!" he boasts. That sounds perfect.
Instead, I'm sniffling my way toward Seven Sisters Coffeehouse on Mills on a muggy evening. XOXO singer Noah Kussack and bassist Kyle Raker sit out front to greet me. Apparently, the Seven Sisters are doing well enough in this economy to afford closing by midday. Wally's is a block away, but they only take cash. For all their DIY attitude toward music, Kussack — who rode his motorcycle directly from his day job pimping cell phones — and oxford-and-tie admissions rep Raker are all plastic. We settle in at Will's Pub across the street.
The bartender politely agrees to turn down the day's soundtrack blasting from overhead. While I would typically kiss her feet for playing long-forgotten early-'90s Miami bass, it makes it tough to listen attentively to the guys' tale of meeting at Florida State University and somehow deciding that Orlando was the best major music market within spitting distance. If they can't transport me to the magical land of XOXO, where everything's poppy and shiny, maybe they can tell me something about them that isn't so sparkling.
"I've never been happier in a band," says Kussack. Raker points to the addition of fellow FSU alum Andy Matchett as a fourth member as one of the reasons they're excited about their prospects. "We contrast the happier, dancier rock with some really heavy lyrics. Some of my lyrics are not happy. But that's not something you're gonna get upon initial listen. I mean we've got a rainbow on the cover. If you don't read the lyrics you could pretty quickly dismiss us."
"What we're doing is pretty straightforward," says Raker. "I don't think we're putting forth a big effort to put on something that makes us more ‘real' than anything else."
"We're just making this band sound like it's the gayest, happiest group ever," laughs Kussack. "There's no ego issues."
To be fair, Kussack is right about the lyrics. C'est la Vie is littered with sly, subtle invective, especially the opening track, "Fly Superman, Fly." In what could be considered the most cheerful atheist manifesto recorded, the synth and piano—assisted singalong wonders aloud if religious devotees also still believe in Superman: "How do you still believe what you say?/Between the progress of science and the strength of our brains/The time on our hands has proven wicked in our case against you," sings Kussack. He admits that he's softened his vitriol towards religion since becoming involved with his fiancee, a devout Christian, and that a lot of it was born from the loss of his mother several years ago, a deeply personal story he's forced to shout over the song currently filling the room.
The highlight of C'est la Vie is the midpoint track "Life … in General," an anthemic, Townshend-windmill-strumming epic about three fictional characters — Jack, Di and Tim — and their various everyday struggles that leave them unhappy. "Remember, time waits for no one," Kussack belts. The track is immediately followed by the Beatles-by-way-of-Chili-Peppers ballad, "A Song for the Reminiscent," a cloud-bound heartbreaker of yearning and regret. That it takes several listens to pinpoint the moments of sorrow is a credit to the four-piece band's inherent pop gift. And on a day like today, when happy pop has proven a mediocre medicine, those hints of mourning are the best kind of gifts.