Review by Heather Phares
Arriving a little over a year and a half after His Name Is Alive's long-awaited comeback Detrola, Xmmer follows in that album's footsteps -- in fact, "Go to Hell Mountain" is a sequel to Detrola's "I Thought I Saw You Moving." Once again, it sounds like all of the band's previous albums rolled into one, although a die-hard fan could get really geeky and say that more of Ft. Lake, Mouth by Mouth, and Home Is in Your Head's influences stand out this time. The biggest difference is that sometime His Name Is Alive singer Lovetta Pippen doesn't make an appearance; while she is missed, Xmmer is still a shining example of the group's singular pop. His Name Is Alive is probably the only group around who could write a song about foreign soldiers invading a house and killing its occupants and have it come out sounding like "Youngblood," all shimmering strings, delicately plucked and strummed acoustic guitars, and deceptively angelic vocals. "The Wolf Put His Mouth on Me" mixes the electronic pulse that made Detrola so exciting with a jagged, bluesy acoustic guitar, chugging rock, and kalimbas and other African touches that feel as much like a nod to Warn Defever's work with NOMO as they do a tribute to Frances Bebey. On paper, it sounds like far too much to put in one song, but in His Name Is Alive's hands, it sounds natural. The Afro-pop influence fits in with the band's sound as easily as their gamelan experiments did in the past, especially on "Come to Me," which bolsters the song's dreamy vocals with brash brass and more of those kalimbas. Elsewhere, "Oh Miss Flower"'s exotic folk-pop, "Put It in Your Mind"'s slow-burning rock, and "Sangaree"'s tense rhythms prove once again just how effortless Defever and crew make their genre-hopping seem -- and more to the point, it never feels like dabbling. Xmmer might be His Name Is Alive's most overtly topical album: the riveting "What Color Was the Blood," with its martial drumbeat and lyrics that could be from an ancient battle song or only slightly less ancient folk protest song, sounds like some kind of war being waged; meanwhile, "Come Out the Wilderness" is a singalong for peace that's too urgent to be sung while sitting around a campfire. And as always, the band finds unique but clear-eyed ways of examining the more difficult side of love, whether it's unrequited ("When You Fall for Someone") or mysterious ("How Dark Is Your Dark Side"). Even if Xmmer's kaleidoscopic approach is similar to what His Name Is Alive has done before, that doesn't make it any less appealing or unique on its own terms.