XIU XIU – La Foret (2005)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Often, when I’m asked to listen to something I’ve never heard before, rather than listen with open ears, I do some desk research. Must be the academic in me: opinions better be grounded in reason and arguments. Looking at Wikipedia (for both the album and the band), one notices that many people, and even more instruments, contribute to the album. Still, it has a somewhat minimal, lo-fi, indie sound, with the lead vocalist hyperventilating in a nearby phone booth. There is a drummer, but it sounds very much programmed.

During the first three songs it slowly dawned on me that this was a bit like a mix of Wilco and Eels, but far worse than both. Once this sort of conclusion enters your mind, it’s difficult to lose it, but I was trying! Low and behold! The fourth song (Pox) was actually a bit more like the Flaming Lips, with a different singer. But then Baby Captain is actually more Ween playing a Sigur Ros song.

Saturn starts with a crashing and indeed, spacy, piano chord, suitably menacing. Some voices are heard as well. The chord returns, interspersed with some pc game bleeps. And after the whistling part, that comes as a relief, the voice returns, with some light industrial percussion. I don’t know, it may be their Revolution #9 or something.

Rose Of Sharon starts nice enough, with what sounds like a pipe organ. Again, the silly voice tries to convey something dramatic. Something Nico did 45 years ago. After the two-minute mark, some processed piano (?) enters. That part is not bad, but it only lasts a minute, the singer returns, only to be slaughtered in some ritualistic way.

Ale, again starts nicely, with some musical interplay. But far too soon that voice starts again. Too bad, as the first two minutes would make a great instrumental interlude whether it’s early Amon Düül or Friends-era Beach Boys. As it is, it meanders along, with the singer sounding a little like the singer of MGMT.

Bog People sounds more up tempo and guitar driven. After a fun intro, unfortunately the singer starts again. Some people may call the voice an ‘acquired taste’. Not only did I not acquire it, to these ears this guy simply cannot sing. He’s using all kinds of effects, and whether it is to improve a poor voice to begin with or to make a perfectly acceptable voice sound like it does on purpose, I don’t know, but the effect is horrendous.

Dangerous You Shouldn’t Be Here is totally minimalistic again, with no real singing but more preaching. The music is not totally bad here, by the way: the organ, the plucking of an acoustic and the sound effects create a somewhat creepy atmosphere that works. But Jeff Tweedy (or Roger Waters) could have a created something far more impressive with this piece of music.

Yellow Raspberry again offers some acoustic guitar. Some possibly acoustic drums (or cardboard boxes) and other effects join the vocals and end the album on a sad note.

Which is how this review will have to end. For me, this album, and indeed, possibly this genre of music, does not serve any purpose: it’s not fun or uplifting to listen to, you cannot dance to it, it’s not relaxing background music to work by and it’s no party music. If you’re an adolescent, bordering on depression, this may be the album for you (although I suggest The Wall). To me, this sounds pretentious and contrived and it is no serious artistic statement (like Guernica, to name a work of art from a totally different field that (equally) does not necessarily give pleasure).

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XIU XIU – Fabulous Muscles (2004)

Review by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Ed Luo 

 

Fabulous Muscles might start off innocuously enough, with a bumbling 8-bit circus rhythm and a vague, softly spoken intro, but it doesn’t take long for things to ratchet up a gear and  the listener to find him or herself subject to the first opening barrage of histrionics and to experience the album’s prevailing mood of uncompromising psychic honesty. FM is a paen to emotional incontinence and tormented self-expression, a sort of musical approximation to the effects of primal scream therapy — or else you could also quite easily just dismiss it as one massive grown up tantrum set to precarious, ugly music. It’s supposed to sound prickly and erratic, and you’re supposed to feel like a voyeur for listening into something that sounds so vulnerable, so intimate: all of it pouring out straight from the Xiu Xiu dude’s tortured little soul, pure and unmediated; and uncompromising too, refusing to make concessions to the  more conventional listener’s conventional musical expectations. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy into all that.

Xiu Xiu have been called noise, except that I always feel that with a noise artist like Merzbow the idea is to effect a kind of pure self effacement, to privilege sound above everything, whereas FM, is about employing harsh, dissonant music and awkward, distressed vocals, as a means primarily of manifesting an overwhelming inner turmoil. Interestingly enough Xiu Xiu seem to be at their most effective when they write actual songs. A case in point is ‘I love the valley OH’, which is by far my highlight of the album. It’s a song which I found myself returning to over and over again, both because it has a great hook and because of its emotional resonance. In the end though the problem with FM is that unless you have one of two extreme reactions to FM — either that of rejecting it straight off the bat because it makes you feel too queasy, or that of feeling yourself completely in tune with Xiu Xiu, a kindred at the level of your twitchy jangling nerves — then it makes you feel as if you’re missing out on something. Nevertheless it’s a worthy enough attempt. (7/10)