LISTENING TO XIU XIU reminds me of the first time I heard Morrissey singing for the Smiths. Lonely, beautiful, and charged with anger toward working-class life, Morrissey sang so that we could bleed and feel the pain of isolation in a new way. No longer satisfied with the diamond edge of punk rock, we were forced to face our inner selves and realize that we were swollen with unmentionables. Xiu Xiu does this for the new generation in a way that cannot be ignored. Completely provocative, Xiu Xiu talks and walks with a brazen swagger, bold with taboo topics and political challenges. The violent theme of sexual relationships and nude emotional candor forces you to question yourself about your own misconceptions of familiar faces and life-old secrets. You'll be lured in with catchy electronic and dance beats—and Xiu Xiu will get you moving. But then, like a punch to the throat, Jamie Stewart's whispers and yowls shock you into listening, and hold you captive until long after you've said "uncle."
Originally from San Jose, Xiu Xiu has seen a rotation of players in the past years, but has never faltered in producing outstanding art. Using an original combination of '80s dance synth, guitar sprawl, and of all things, a love for the Balinese gamelan, Stewart has led Xiu Xiu into musical modernity. After watching a live performance of one of the more recent Xiu Xiu groupings, I realized that Stewart's appreciation for world music is an undeniable influence. Take away the post-punk guitar and synth, and you'll quietly hear the sing-song bells and chimes. And then, he begins to sing. At first softly, a confidential yearning for love and acceptance. We hear the story of lost love, missed opportunities, and insecurity. But once Xiu Xiu has begun, it is difficult to look away. You are dropkicked into a world of rape, suicide, disease, and war. The whispers become screams and in a panic, you've stopped dancing and have begun listening in open-eyed awe.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are some who might not enjoy a performance such as this. It just might be too emotionally demanding—maybe you're not quite ready to open that can of worms. But for those who are ready, Xiu Xiu will change your perceptions of art, music, and life in America.