Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Album Review: Women as Lovers by Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu are what many would call a success story. After all, they’ve evolved from an experimental, rotating-cast freakshow who appealed only to the outer edge of musical snobs and depressed hipsters, to a full-on, Xiu Xiu Women as Loversfour member, MySpace friendly, blog-writing, book- producing, ceaselessly collaborating, networking whirlwind with legions of fans and the respect of critics. Not only that, but unlike some rise-to-glory stories, Xiu Xiu’s transformation has been nice to see, mostly because founding member Jamie Stewart and able sidekick Caralee McElroy always seemed to be having a lot of fun, connecting well with their fans and managing to maintain their sense of humor and their honesty.

But somewhere along the path to Women as Lovers, Xiu Xiu lost a little bit of their subtlety. Though all the band’s hallmarks—the experimentation, the grab-bag electronics and waves of unconventional percussion, the impassioned vocals complete with über-weirdo lyrics—are still there, something vital is missing. Could it be that fame, success, and comfort corrupted Xiu Xiu’s artistic process? That doesn’t seem to fit the still-odd Stewart and McElroy. But what about those two new permanent band members—could they have caused an unnecessary bloating of the music, as if the band weren’t quite ready to absorb all the new hands in the studio? Quite possibly. Regardless of cause, one of the most endearing aspects of Xiu Xiu—their utter vulnerability—has been replaced with a steady confidence.

This is not to say that Women as Lovers is a bad album. It is actually quite fine, as it has enough strangeness to appeal to those who appreciate strangeness, and enough adorableness to appeal to those who appreciate adorableness. Lead track “I Do What I Want When I Want,” complete with shared vocals, a near-perfect progression, no shortage of surprise, and Ornette Coleman-style saxophone, is a fantastic art-pop song. “No Friend Oh!,” whose title hearkens back to earlier albums, is a joy and experience to hear, a song with just enough head-shaking moments to feel like true-to-life Xiu Xiu. “Black Keyboard,” despite its disturbing lyrics, and “You Are Pregnant You, You Are Dead” are also excellent additions to the band’s catalog.

With all that strength, it’s hard to see what doesn’t feel right about this album. But something definitely isn’t quite right, and there’s a good chance the problem lies with the cover song blaring from the album’s center. “Under Pressure,” the David Bowie standard whose beat was made doubly famous by Vanilla Ice, makes for a well-done and interesting cover, all the way down to the exceptional vocal turn by Angels of Light and ex-Swans frontman Michael Gira. But what happens is that Women as Lovers feels less like a complete album and more like a collection of songs. Other moments in the album, including the irritating “Puff and Bunny,” in which Stewart repeats the words “hot pepper” a painful number of times, also lead to the disconnected feel of the album. And this effect, especially in comparison to their previous albums, is pretty jarring.

So it seems this is what happens when a band has established itself as being really, really good—they release an album that is only merely good, and people are annoyed. But that’s the price to pay for success—you better not display imperfection, because if you do you’ll be called on it. And so it is with Xiu Xiu, one of the most excellent and fascinating bands of the decade, and one that still holds that trophy. Even if the trophy isn’t quite as shiny as it used to be.

Xiu Xiu [Official] [Label] [MySpace] [Download Site]


1 Comment»

  neuendorf wrote @

I would like this tell me where to get this as per previous offer of getting this and other things you said you could get including music that this clearly falls under and the getting of that you said we could get and you could get to hear the music you get get it?

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