Calan Mai’s new single XO is a feel-good indie pop tune that combines clever lyrics with a breezy melody that shouts of summer and sentimentality.
The Australian musician’s charming voice acts as the perfect narrator for the relaxed but focused story it tells. It’s a fight song for self-validation as much as it is a car song for a road trip to the beach. As soothing as it is energizing, depending on what part you’re honing in on. Mai’s tune has a thoughtful disposition to its musicality.
The easy-listening song is the perfect soundtrack to the falling-in-love montage in a laid-back romance movie, or an Airbnb commercial telling young people to get out and see the world while they can. It drips with the notion of exploration and summertime. But “XO” has sprinkled throughout it a hearty helping of witty, motivational mantras that set its lyrics apart.
“I’m not the kind to place my fate in zodiacs or
black cat hisses and superstitions
I’m afraid enough of bad nutrition
I’ve got a way of losing every pound I’ve gained”
This song’s got personality.
Determined but without taking itself too seriously, “XO” gets across the wistful longing of a young person in today’s atmosphere–an increasingly and frighteningly digital one.
“Sally, do you think I’m with the program?
Hook me up to WIFI, wire my systems up”
As we grow more dependent on instant reassurance, we lose sight of our real life potential. A specific emotion that didn’t exist just a couple years ago, this youthful dilemma is an interesting topic to see covered in a pop song.
Self-doubt is a musical standard, but to inflict upon it the nuance of modern Internet culture is a welcome fresh take to the genre of reflective folk music.
That welcomed novelty extends to the accompaniment, as well. I can’t say that I’ve heard too many indie folk songs that include a buoyant Latin-inspired horn a section that keeps the song moving forward. “XO” is full of little ornamentations and rhythmic devices that make it sound traveled and universal.
A strange but effective combination of sounds, the single manages to infuse the weird and the wonderful into what could have easily been a traditional folk-pop song, and an enjoyable one at that.
But instead what came out was something with a twist—a Calan Mai original.
“My résumé is mostly life and a few connections”
I think most can relate to playing one of those acoustic/beachy vibes playlists on Spotify when in need of something mellow to calm you down. And as each song fades into the next, it’s difficult to detect any distinction—that’s kind of the point—but “XO” might just stand out because of its pretty, smart lyrics (and also Mai’s great Australian accent). You’ll find a line that sticks with you because there’s so many to choose from.
I don’t think Calan Mai set out to revolutionize folk music with this song, but rather throw his hat into the ring. Perhaps inching towards a spot in the next generation of soft-spoken singer/songwriters that can still command a tune. And he’s succeeded. The song doesn’t fall short and offers up a recognizable talent.
It’s a well-crafted piece of fun-loving folk with a couple of surprises in every section. What more could you ask for?
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