Music

Xiu Xiu: Women as Lovers

Mike Mineo
Photo: Christelle

Predictably, yet another bold and consistently satisfying release in Xiu Xiu's discography.


Xiu Xiu

Women as Lovers

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2008-01-29
UK Release Date: 2008-01-28
Amazon
iTunes

When frontman Jamie Stewart announced late last year that Xiu Xiu's sixth studio album, Women as Lovers, would be "more approachable or communicative on a basic human level" than any of the band's previous releases, a substantial number of fans likely scratched their heads in disbelief. After all, it had always been a form of anguished unpredictability that made Xiu Xiu a contemporary staple in the genre of experimental art-rock, with additional unconventional structural techniques making compatible similarities to other artists seemingly impossible. With past lyrical content that included perverse sexual fantasies, grotesque fetishes, and descriptive violence -- often supplemented by instrumentation that would be easily classified as avant-garde -- Stewart has always been rightfully credited as being a poetically brilliant lyricist, with an ability to write songs that treat the listener to simultaneous feelings of heartrending romanticism and uneasiness difficult to match. Such history can beg a simple question: Just how "more approachable" is Women as Lovers when compared to Xiu's Xiu's past releases?

In a probable effort to appeal to the small majority of listeners that found Xiu Xiu's instrumental approach to be too cyclically linear, what Stewart may have been vaguely referring to is the fact that Women as Lovers sounds like the most instrumentally expansive album of Xiu Xiu's career. Their increased implementation of brass and live drumming provides for an experience that renders more realistically capable and thus thoroughly impressive. Drummer Ches Smith makes his mark as arguably the largest reason for the slight audible transition on the album. Whether he is performing in a hastily aggressive fury in "In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall" or managing to keep his presence more subdued on the unsettlingly brilliant "The Leash", the variaiton his percussion provides makes Xiu Xiu's trademark sound even more wholesomely appealing in ardency and enthusiasm. Additionally, this form of preciseness does not even slightly detract from the band's appeal. In fact, it makes the cause for satisfaction even stronger, as Stewart's eccentrically addicting melodies appear more confidently supplemented than ever before.

The album's most accessible and initially satisfying track, "No Friends Oh!", serves as excellent indication of the group's efforts to promote this new emphasis. Apart from showcasing some of Stewart's most fulfilling songwriting of his career, the song serves as a nostalgic reminder of Xiu Xiu tracks where pop-oriented hooks reigned supreme over eerily sparse instrumental content. It beckons accessibility in the same way that "Save Me Save Me" and "I Luv the Valley Oh!" did, mixing unpredictably appealing verses with a consistently explosive chorus of epic proportions. "Tommy and Dan, you can't hold hands", Stewart sings in his lovably torturous croon during the chorus, enhanced by an remarkably layered brass progression that remains slightly out of key for rewarding effect. "Who cares you're gay / But it's your age / No friends oh". The common interpretation indicates it being a romantically tragic fable of a pedophile falling in love with a young boy, though Stewart's expectedly ambiguous use of wordplay provides cause for open interpretation. Whatever one chooses to believe, though, there is little doubt that the grim effects of society play a large role.

Like the lyrical content on "No Friends Oh!", a common theme throughout Women as Lovers appears to be the vile form of corruption that society has on the children that are forcibly exposed to it. With a chilling organ and delicate guitar progression, "Black Keyboard" relays the tarnishing effect on a child in a home of vile mental and sexual abuse. "Be free, laugh at your son / A child is nothing without hate", Stewart sings, with a touch of sarcasm ringing in his quivering vocals. He coaxes up imagery throughout the album in tragically impressive form, whether it be of a child being pushed on a swing by a deranged mother on "Black Keys", an infant who dies of parental neglect in "Gayle Lynn", or the social reject who pops both percocet and pimples on "White Nerd".

The only foreseen hiccup on the album is "Master of the Bump (Kurt Stumbaugh, I Can Feel the Soil Falling Over My Head)". Though it contributes to the appropriately barren atmosphere throughout Women as Lovers with a delicate mixture of subdued guitars and whirring keys, the repetition and lack of variety makes it generally monotonous. Fortunately, it is presented as the only track on the album that remains mildly uninteresting in the lyrical and instrumental aspects. It simply pales in comparison to tracks like "F.T.W." that use a variety of unconventional production effects and samples to create a memorably appealing sound. It takes a lot to doubt a song that features an exchange of acoustical strums, erratically capricious percussion, and electronic beeps that are reminiscent of a drugged up R2-D2.

Suitably being the only track on the album that shows any signs of predictability, the cover of Queen's "Under Pressure" (featuring Michael Gira of Swans fame) gives an enjoyable twist on the classic, with Stewart's torturous squeals adding an entirely new twist to the song. Both "I Do What I Want, When I Want" and "Under Pressure" throw the listener into a type of free-form jazz with a brief saxophone solo. Although the style initially causes the listener to feel some slight disorientation, several listens later reveal that Xiu Xiu's intentions are more premeditated than originally exposed. The same can be said about the "In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall", an energetically consuming track that almost seems to be an ode to dark post-punk greats in the vein of Bauhaus through its use of heavily distorted guitars and bass. Stewart remains generally incomprehensible throughout his high-pitched torturous strains, and the tone is appropriate in contrast to the emotionally transitioning instrumental presentation. Through Stewart's melodic prowess, it remains infectious and wildly successful.

Though few would have predicted that Xiu Xiu would increase their already empowering form of ambitiousness, Women as Lovers capitalizes on it as yet another bold and consistently satisfying release in Xiu Xiu's discography. Like its preceding releases, Women as Lovers is a grower that will warmly reward listeners who give it the time it deserves.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image