Thur Sept 22
Berbati's Pan 10 SW 3rd
Esteemed/reviled British rock historianJon Savage once said that all truly important music eschews sounds of the past for revelations of the future. It's a perspective of particular relevance today, as virtually all critically acclaimed independent pop music being made at the moment is, at heart, primarily a thinly veiled reassessment of futures past. There was a time not too long ago in which, under the right circumstances, the rock musician could become something of a cultural prophet—suggesting a future that could only be imagined by dreamers of the present. Despite the fact that there is plenty of contemporary indie music which I thoroughly enjoy, I have to admit that very little of it seems particularly "important" in a historical sense—rather, just some well-crafted diversion from the present via time warp. There is, of course, at least one particularly glaring exception to this rule—a band in such refreshingly stark contrast to independent pop music's current climate (or most any climate, for that matter) that they virtually define Savage's definition of "important." And the fact of the matter is that Xiu Xiu just might be the most "important" band in the world.
Since the release of 2002's Knife Play, Xiu Xiu have charted one of the most singular, compellingly confident creative arcs in all of contemporary pop music—an alien, impenetrable mélange of noise, synthpop, gamelan, and punk that over the last three years has only grown in its absurd disparity. Upon its release, Knife Play was met with a great deal of critical skepticism—many critics openly questioned the sincerity of Xiu Xiu principal Jamie Stewart's relentless, open-wounded histrionics. Much to the chagrin of his early detractors, Stewart has yet to show his hand—crafting record after glorious record of unnervingly specific narrative detail atop an increasingly otherworldly expanse of soundscapes with nary a wink. More importantly, Xiu Xiu has yet to expose the brushstrokes of its discomfortingly assertive technique—and while suggestions of historical influence can be piecemealed from out of the band's cataclysmic clatter, nothing that they've ever touched has suggested any fingerprints of the past.
La Forêt—Xiu Xiu's latest record and fourth overall—finds the band in relatively subdued form following the balanced pop and noise extremities of last year's masterful Fabulous Muscles. On the whole a more thoughtful, demanding record, La Forêt marks the first discernable plateau in Xiu Xiu's endlessly skyward trajectory—but any tinge of disappointment is quickly nullified by the sheer quality of the material. I mean, we are talking about the most important band in the world, after all. Over the course of its murky 11 tracks, Xiu Xiu touches on virtually all of their familiar tricks—dabbling in near-palatable synthpop, mournful dirges, and blistering noise—all with familiarly impressive results. La Forêt just stands to reinforce what we already knew: There are very few pop bands with this level of popular acclaim making music so totally forward thinking as Xiu Xiu.
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with making music strongly rooted in the futures of the past—but in these times of the rock band as historical reenactment, it's invigorating to see independent pop musicians offering us an honest-to-god vision for the future. If nothing else, Xiu Xiu feels virtually peerless in its clairvoyance—theirs is a future music. Or, at least, the music I hope to be hearing in the future.