X Harlow is the electronic pop project of Justin Schmidt (Blu Anxxiety). Based in Brooklyn, Schmidt began their music career in their hometown of Milwaukee’s punk scene playing in Cougar Den and Youth Crush. Parking Lot is an exploration of isolation and memory and how they interact when we spend extended time alone. The video is shot entirely in Milwaukee in different locations that were places often visited during Schmidt’s childhood (Milwaukee’s Lakefront, The Domes, Leon’s, Miller Park). Returning as an adult during the pandemic leaves a somber, ghostlike quality to revisiting those places while still trying to recall the playfulness of the original experience as a kid.
X Harlow’s sophomore album Anchorite combines their use of dark, brooding post-punk with an exploration of Gregorian chant, ambient and hip hop. “Anchorite” gets its title from the medieval figures of the same name: those who withdraw from society, trap themselves in place and pray for those around them in isolation. Written during the darkest months of New York’s coronavirus epidemic, the album is an emotional meditation on mourning family and an indictment of the state’s incompetence in public health. The album spans through nine intimate tracks that decidedly depart in intensity from X Harlow’s April release “Feuerwerk,” centering more on a mix of post-punk and hip hop, employing complex vocal harmonies, Gregorian chants, and technical beat making. Influences from projects like Burial are clear on tracks like Glide and Von Bingen’s Prayer, both conveying an introspective, mystic ambience with the kind of deep rhythms found in UK dub. On songs like “Pyre” and “Eyes Out” X Harlow sings of the deep anxiety from grief and isolation during lockdown. The album is interlaced with short interludes of dark ambience; opening with the suffocating chords of “Alfred Dies” and ending with the calming choirs of “Elysium.” X Harlow’s lyrical content always tackles political topics but the execution of contemporary pop and engaging rhythm shows a refinement of their work here. Almost every song has its own hook; some are haunting while others are simply catchy dystopian anthems. “Anchorite” moves away from the aggressiveness of “Feuerwerk” and creates a direct lineage of the more bewitching and cerebral tracks that can be found on “Ceiling System,” the first X Harlow release. The rhythms are driving, the music haunting, and the lyrics thoughtful and challenging.