Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A Slightly More Carefree Xiu Xiu Emerges on "Women As Lovers"
After eight years, six full-length albums and a handful of EPs and compilations, Xiu Xiu has proven to be a giant oxymoron—a band that is simultaneously danceable and depressing, uncomfortable and infectious, genre-bending and ever faithful to pop song-craft.
On Women As Lovers, the band's proclivity for Joy Division, Indonesian gamelan, gay club music and experimental noise is as apparent as ever. But the group tones down the harsh drones, painfully angular guitar lines and gut-churning string sections of yore. Instead, one hears a musical vocabulary that is, daresay, fun-loving: squeaky-clean vibes, Asian flutes and percussion, driving beats, subdued vocals and horn melodies as raspy as they are triumphant.
Of course, unidentifiable noises still enter the fray in waves and pops. They are like the listless whispers of front-man Jamie Stewart's ever-present hunger and anguish, less ancillary than they might seem. And of course, Stewart still tends to express a sense of utter hopelessness. On "F.T.W.," over shimmering acoustic guitar, Stewart sings, "There is no right/There is no wrong/In why we live/There is only wrong." Halfway through, the tune devolves into a discordant series of squawks and yelps. Then Stewart whispers, "The car has killed you/And your corpse/Has de-discouraged us/To never, never, never, never look up."
Some critics might write-off Xiu Xiu as pretentious or self-absorbed music for art snobs. But the band's adherents (like me) could consider this music visionary. Either way, no one can deny that Women As Lovers leaves the listener with an ominous question: What can Xiu Xiu possibly come up with next?
This review runs in this week's issue of the New School Free Press.