I actually got a little nervous before pressing play for the first time on “I’ll Be Fine,” the single by XOXOK that we’re premiering today.

I had such high expectations. I’d called prior single “Right On” one of the best local songs of the year when we premiered it in May, and after months of living with Keenan Jenkins’s transfixing meditation on ambient anxiety about police violence, I’d struck “local” from the estimation.

But from the first shivering chords of “I’ll Be Fine,” I knew—he had managed to equal or perhaps even outdo himself, proving that “Right On,” a definitive turn to full-bodied soul after his very good but embryonic 2019 debut EP, Worthy, was no fluke.

The new single has the same musicological complexity within classic form as the last one, the same restrained but resplendent vocal performance, the same exhilarating atmosphere and discreetly flashy guitar playing. You can tell these two songs are the foundation blocks of a phenomenal debut LP falling into place.  

Jenkins, who lives in Carrboro, is again joined by bassist TJ Richardson, drummer Joe MacPhail, and keyboardist Gabriel Reynolds, who is also the producer. The first star-cracked guitars and tumbling bass form the material of a romantic mood, which is then worked through a kaleidoscope of clutching, gliding grooves, festooned with ringing chords. Nimble, sweet, yet totally epic, the tune builds to an almost-prog climax without ever sacrificing its smooth, gracious lines.

When I interviewed Jenkins about “Right On,” he said, “[It’s] the most explicit song I’ve released, and not because of the F word, but because I’m not really cloaking things in metaphor, which is a little scary. … This has given me a bit of encouragement to continue doing that.”

Indeed, on “I’ll Be Fine,” he sings, “Might I be so bold to tell the whole world, I love you?” It doesn’t get much more explicit than that. Jenkins’s newfound confidence to say just what he means is reflected in his expertly turned band and towering yet tasteful arrangements. I’m going to be a nervous wreck for single number three.   

Follow Interim Editor in Chief Brian Howe on Twitter or send an email to bhowe@indyweek.com

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.