Xiu Xiu - The Air Force
Reviewed by Andreas on 29th September 2006
Amongst bleeping and banging synths, samples and noise, gloriously tender songs can be heard. Jamie Stewart, vocalist and chief songwriter of Xiu Xiu, screams, sings, shouts and whispers his way through songs dealing with bad relationships, abuse, family and what have you. It seems clear that several books could be written about the man's lyrics and life, and yet we'd still be quite far from the actual truth. "The Air Force" is Xiu Xiu's fifth album, and is arguably one of the San Diego duo/trio's best. Yes, even better than their cover of "Don't Cha" (which is one of the scariest cover versions ever).
Experimental prog-pop would perhaps be a terminology that could attempt to describe what Xiu Xiu do on "The Air Force". With some heavier beats and glossier production, songs like "Boy Soprano" and "Save Me" could have ended up on mainstream radio, one imagines. Xiu Xiu's music has its foundation in melodies that are, at times, straight out of pop. They're catchy, they're (dread this word) emotive and feel honest. In what could be interpreted as a bit of a situationalist "thing", these melodies and choruses are hidden behind music that glitches, twists weirdly and at times could destroy your ears before dropping down to a whisper. At other times it just gets a bit odd, like on "Bishop, CA", where Stewart sings "wallawallawallwalla hey hey, wallawallawallawalla hey hey", or something to that effect, and manages to make it sound good.
The songs are steeped in electronic noise and complex layers of sound, but perhaps in a more sober way than on previous albums. Compared to previous releases, there is a sense of maturity on "The Air Force" that was perhaps hard to find on earlier albums. It's kind of like when metal bands realise they don't absolutely have to scream and cry to get their point across, only cooler and definitely not metal of genre. Often dealing with depression, suicide, love and (bad) relationships, Xiu Xiu manage to keep it from becoming whiny and stay on the good side of "heartfelt".
"The Air Force", despite all its glory, doesn't really take Xiu Xiu anywhere they haven't been before. Luckily Xiu Xiu isn't prone to make three minute pop anthems that all sound the same. Songs like "The Fox & The Rabbit", "Save Me" and "Watermelon vs. The Pineapple" are torn, glorious songs that really strike true.
Through all the noise and distortion, real cathartic beauty comes to the forefront, and that is the best thing about Xiu Xiu: Their ability to be quite weird and darkly disturbing, but still sing songs you'll find yourself humming.
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