Xiu Xiu
(say "shoe shoe")
w/Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Roy Tinsel
Mon Jan 28

Xiu Xiu aren't musicians so much as playwrights--they create desperate, histrionic, sweeping songs, full of cut-apart decadence and noises spliced together theatrically. The gasping, drowning vocals of Jamie Stewart are thick and powerful, amid a barrage of drum machines, self-made percussion instruments, pounding guitars, sweet harmonium, and accordion. At certain points, they'll slow down the song for a short, eerie monologue, or completely stop it so that Jamie can scream, "Don't fuck with me DON'T fuck with ME!" Xiu Xiu makes painstakingly composed chaos, crashing violently or unfolding quietly, but never predictably. They're one of those bands you can connect with on a really human level, because their emotive and artful music is so effective at personifying sadness and beauty.

Xiu Xiu is also very dramatic. The San Francisco quartet has no qualms with illuminating the ugliest realities of life in their lyrics, probably encapsulating every depressing scenario you can imagine into song. Suicidal housewives, youthful shopaholics with sugar daddies, generally feeling awful about oneself--it's all there. But Xiu Xiu's lyrics are simple and almost declarative; the band mostly relies on its music to convey bleakness. Lines like "La La holds inside her/the horrible dream of being somebody/thinking about her dream makes her feel like it's stupid," or "I hate my husband/ I hate my children/ I'm going to hang myself," are melodramatic. But they're honest and therefore sweet, albeit completely depressing.

"The ideas or topics of 95 percent of the songs are real," says Xiu Xiu's Yvonne Chen. "They are totally autobiographical; they've all happened to people we know or real people we've read about."

I pity the subject of the lyric, "I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle."

But even the old French existentialists agreed that people need to find purpose in the face of absurdity. So doesn't hope exist at all in their lyrics? Jamie responds, "There was a time when we were trying to have some feeling of relief [in the music], but the world is such a fucking disaster, that seems really stupid. Maybe just by still playing we are admitting, consciously or not, that there is something okay."

Yvonne confirms, "Listening to grim music, veiled or not, can make you feel less alone if you are feeling grim yourself. Everyone says this, but it's true. Perhaps there's more hope in there than we want to cop to."

Knife Play, Xiu Xiu's debut record on Slim Moon's excellent label, 5 Rue Christine, is amazing and inventive--each track is a like a car crash of new wave, modern classical, art-punk, suicidal ballads. It's a canvas of many influences, with a unique knowledge of the modern classical bell-tower sounds and silent bathtub scratchings grafted into surprisingly danceable rhythms. The band even cites the visionary minimalist composer, Henry Cowell, as one of their reference points. Jamie states, "We listen to a lot of modern classical and club dance music which, arrangement-wise, is totally removed from pop songs. At the same time, we're trying to fit those kinds of musical ideas into pop-type structures, in that there are verses and choruses and words and melodies. So, perhaps they're somewhere in between."

He continues, "We're trying to make music that is important to us, and real to who we are. The music that has always reached us is music made by people who are true to themselves. We don't always succeed at this, but it's what we're looking to do."