Despite being in his early 20s, Burgess (who cut his teeth in Dayton, Ohio, but now calls Cincinnati home) is technically a music veteran, diving into Hip Hop in his early teens and releasing his debut at 18. By building a solid groundwork that drew influence from Hip Hop artists who blazed their own paths instead of following trends, Burgess has moved well past his earliest releases by regularly challenging himself, learning and exploring. In that way, Burgess is actually right in line with the breakthrough Hip Hop performers of today, whose sense of boundless curiosity has helped create a new golden era for the genre.
A chronic collaborator, the prolific Burgess issued a handful of full-length recording projects last year alone, including his second instrumental album, Solstice, which is like a snapshot of his experimental spirit.
Xela writes songs and performs in the area with an acoustic guitar, but her magnetic debut, last year’s Monster, is a mixtape on which she sometimes matches her fluttering, slow-burning voice to beds of airy soundscapes and flickering beats. Monster’s more sparse songs feature just acoustic guitar and vocals, which might tempt one to label her “Folk Pop” if that was the only side of herself she presented. But it’s that effortless mixture of seemingly disparate approaches that makes Xela a truly 21st century artist. While once musicians had to pick a lane and stick to it musically, today’s multidimensional listening habits have produced a breed of creatives who wouldn’t think of not allowing other styles of music to shade their craft.
That innate pursuit of ideas wherever they lead and the lack of concern over precise categorization are things Burgess and Xela share. While evident in their previous work, the generational bond and natural artistic rapport creates sparks. The best collaborators are the ones whose presences bring out not just the best in each other, but also unique dimensions perhaps not as previously apparent. That’s the case with celestialove.
The two artists’ compatibility is part of the reason the release is so effective and alluring, but make no mistake, their individual skills are bountiful. Xela’s vocals — soulful and dream-like, even when she raps (which she does more here than on Monster) — crawl over and around the beats with confidence and comfort. Burgess’ captivating delivery alternates throughout celestialove, but his voice’s low-key and deceptively laidback timbre meshes perfectly with Xela’s style and the recording’s overall wandering and wondering vibe.
Sonically, celestialove possesses a warm, echoing fluidity, with gauzy atmospherics occasionally punctuated by glitchy noises that only enhance the trancelike powers the recording possesses. Phantogram and Big Boi’s Big Grams project, Chance the Rapper, D’Angelo, Portishead, Billie Holiday, Dilla, This Mortal Coil and Digable Planets all found time — briefly — in my headspace during repeated listens, but it’s best to turn off your mind, relax and flow downstream while listening to celestialove. As Xela and Burgess’ voices wind around the narcotic rhythms and spacey sounds, you might find yourself reaching for headphones. Maybe even a smoke? celestialove is definitely stoner-friendly, but the songs are often so intoxicating and dizzying that they come off like a wholly new venture in post-modern psychedelia, like Trip Hop dipped in cough syrup and laid out to dry under a black-light poster as Atlanta streams on the laptop in the background. celestialove is a spellbinding piece of work that should have you paying close attention to both of these engaging artists.
The album, which has been earning attention from online Hip Hop blogs, can be streamed or purchased as a name-your-price download at devinburgessmusic.bandcamp.com. It’s also available to stream at soundcloud.com/xelamusician. You can also click below to listen and link back to Burgess' site.
UPDATE: To avoid confusion with other musical acts, Xela is now going by Xzela. Her Soundcloud is now here.