Xela: For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights

The well-timed reissue of John Twells' first Xela album, For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights, arrives mere months after his macabre The Dead Sea. The debut originally appeared on Lee Norris's Neo Ouija label but, with the latter now sadly defunct, the re-issue is even more welcome. The four-year-old album, newly expanded by two tracks written shortly after the album's completion, traffics in enveloping and becalmed electronic atmospheres, making it dramatically different from the disturbed sea shanties of The Dead Sea and its predecessor, the relatively more folktronic Tangled Wool.

Before creating the material on For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights, Twells had weaned himself on assorted indie genres, including punk and metal, before discovering electronic music, so it doesn't surprise that the album finds him experimenting with multiple styles, as if searching to find his own voice. The album's dreamy synthetic pieces—more mood settings than melodic compositions, albeit ones bolstered by chiming keyboard melodies, ambient washes, and clicking beats that snap like firecrackers—reveal that he'd not only been immersing himself in electronic music of the Raster-Noton, 12k, and Neo Ouija type but clearly hip-hop too. The becalmed flow of “Afraid of Monsters” is in keeping with Neo Ouija's invitingly warm style, while “Digital Winter” is a textural vignette reminiscent of 12k. The symphonic meditation “Bobble Hats in Summer” impresses as a particularly heavenly evocation, especially when its 'Liberace' piano sprinkles appear. Understated hip-hop beats complement waves of harmonium-styled shimmer in “Under the Glow of Streetlights” while “Japanese Whispers” features chopped voices and a lurching hip-hop groove that one could mistake for a less frenetic Machine Drum track. In contrast to Tangled Wool, For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights is also clearly not a guitar-oriented album as the instrument's first prominent appearance comes ten tracks in (“Last Breath”). The re-release will appeal not only to those who missed it the first time around but to those desiring greater insight into Xela's formative development.

January 2007