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Sxip shape! Electro artist launches new album with big W’burg show

for Brooklyn Paper
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He’s more than just a brain!

Electro-acoustic composer Sxip Shirey may be best known for the cerebral and experimental side of his music, but most of his music has both a melody and a groove. The Gowanus musician, who will launch his latest album at avant-garde music spot National Sawdust in Williamsburg on Jan. 9, says that while he values the intellectual approach to music, his goal is something much more visceral.

“I’m not writing music to be smart,” Shirey insists. “I’m a smart f------, and I definitely use conceptual techniques for my music, but I’m actually just interested in, ‘Can you write a f------ good song?’ ”

The best music communicates with people, said Shirey, and he wants to reach a wide audience. He says that he would welcome a situation in which he’s told, “Hey, Sxip, there’s a bunch of plumbers out there, and you have to sell this to them.”

Shirey’s latest effort to communicate is the album “A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees,” set for release on Jan. 13. For the album’s premiere at National Sawdust, Shirey says he is “pulling out the stops.”

The release show will feature singers Rhiannon Giddens and Xavier, both of whom provided guest vocals for the album. Minneapolis poet-rapper Dessa will join Shirey for the song “I Live in New York City,” and the show will also feature the 20-piece Brooklyn vocal ensemble Choral Chameleon.

Shirey met R&B vocalist Xavier through a mutual friend, and found that chatting with the openly gay singer inspired him to complete several new songs for the album.

“I wrote from a gay perspective on Xavier’s songs,” said Shirey. “I had these partially-finished songs, and I had been talking to Xavier a lot about situations he was in. It was really easy to write the rest of the lyrics.”

The evening will also include a controversial piece Shirey debuted at a 2008 TED talk, for which he put a microphone inside his mouth while pushing air in and out of another person’s lungs. Not everyone appreciated that bit of art, but Shirey said that reaction is typical for his work.

“Some of you will get what I am doing,” he said, “and some of you will still think I’m full of s---! And that’s fine!”

Sxip Shirey at National Sawdust (80 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, nationalsawdust.org). Jan. 9 at 7 pm. $34 ($29 in advance).

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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