Sometimes taking on an alias or persona can be a comforting thing, especially when you’re an artist. The moat and wall defense of a different name other than yours can give someone a sense of protection. It allows them to be more daring artistically and creatively than if they were standing before you, birth name and all, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and their pair of favorite kicks. Behind the persona there’s a sense of freedom which can open an artist up, allowing them to get out on the ledge, scream at the Gods at the top of their lungs, and dig deeper than they could otherwise. A persona can turn an introvert into an extrovert, while still allowing them the luxury of being that quiet soul behind closed doors. When you’re in a band you can seemingly still be “yourself”, while being protected under the umbrella of a band name. As a solo artist it’s all you, and unless you’re Beyonce or Morrissey, well it can be a lot to take on as the kid everyone knew in school who’s amp stopped working mid-talent show.
For quite a few years now Justin Sweatt has released music as Xander Harris. The music of Xander Harris has moved through dark techno, EDM, heavy synth, ambient, and even elements of synth pop, all with the confidence of an artist that’s sure of himself and what he wants to convey. I don’t know Justin, so maybe he’s not a shy introvert in his everyday life. Maybe he’s just as big a personality as the music of Xander Harris sounds to be. But after listening to Say Your Goodbyes, the first album Sweatt has released under his own name, I’d go out on a limb and say that at least a part of him is more reflective and inward-looking than his persona Xander Harris. Say Your Goodbyes is really a remarkable collection of songs filled with longing and beauty. It feels like a period at the end of some grand statement. It’s much less about dark electronica and more about making amends, whether it be with estranged relationships or with yourself.
“The Girl With The Diamond Tattoo” sets the tone of the album. It’s a wistful, wide-eyed conversation of a song. A contemplative walk on the shoreline, or a sunset car ride to nowhere in-particular. Simple, breezy percusssion and hazy keys make this the kind of song you want in your head when taking the next step towards something new. “Booze Clues” puts me in mind of Tangerine Dream. Like Risky Business-era Tangerine Dream. Or those contemplative moments on Miami Vice. This is a late night cruise lit by neon lights. “A Light Boils Dim” veers into Vangelis territory. There’s a regal feel in the sparseness of the track. “Chasing Paper” has a feel that’s much lighter than previous Xander Harris tracks.
Listening to Say Your Goodbyes I can’t help but feel this is a musical side of Justin Sweatt that he’s wanted to share for some time. While not a 180 degree turn from his Xander Harris work, it does display a new tone. One that feels decidedly more sun-lit and positive. He seems to be conveying a hopefulness in tracks like “Touching From A Distance”, “Hello, Lonesome”, and “Eternal Return”. Or if not hopefulness, at least a wide-eyed honesty about where he is in the world now. No dark tones and pulsating beats. Just a raw energy coming from a new outlook. A guarded optimism.
I, like the rest of those Xander Harris fans out there, hope there’s more coming from Xander Harris. But if Say Your Goodbyes is indeed an ending to a musical era for the persona known as Xander Harris, I can say it’s a truly great start for a musician named Justin Sweatt.