Xiu Xiu - Biography
How tricky it must be for any latter generation band to make a single move without coming off as completely derivative. And what a pull-off it is that experimental indie art rockers Xiu Xiu manage to do it with such finesse. They infuse a disparate array of influences including techno, folk, noise, New Romantic, 70s/80s punk and synth pop with the passionate, confrontational lyrics of the band’s founder, Jamie Stewart. Xiu Xiu formed in 2000, when Stewart got together with Cory McCullough, his band mate from Ten in the Swear Jar and IBOPA. Also in the line-up were Yvonne Chen, who now runs a vegan store called Otsu and a trendy zine called Zum, and Lauren Andrews. The personnel continued to change, landing on the current trio of Stewart, keyboardist Anglela Seo and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Ches Smith.
The first release was an EP, Chapel of the Chimes (2002 Absolutely Kosher) followed by the full length Knife Play (2000 5 Rue Christine), an eclectic collection of experimental ideas — uninhibited pieces of noise, nervy techno beats, weird orchestration and clanging percussion, all accompanying Stewart’s dramatic, breathy vocals. A Promise (2003 5 Rue Christine) followed, a much more focused record. Stewart’s singing is also more unhinged here, enhanced by organs, whistles and whispers. Themes of grief and loss dominate the album, as it followed the death of Stewart’s father, Michael Stewart, who was the lead singer for 60s folk/rock band We Five. In places the vocals are infinitely sad and weirdly beautiful at times casting Stewart as a kind of contemporary Ian Curtis.
They went more pop on the next release, Fabulous Muscles (2004 5 Rue Christine), and more theatrical as well. Playful sound collages wonderfully enhance Stewart’s tormented outbursts and whispers. Sonic influences range from OMD, early De Peche Mode, Soft Cell and Cabaret Voltaire, to name a few. Lyrical themes are par for the course: anxiety, personal angst and political rue, i.e. “Support Our Troops Oh!” (apparently, while on the road, the group got a visit from the secret service due to some controversial tour hijinx). Things got more stripped down on La Forét (Rue Christine), but oddly more furious as well, as threads of conflict, sorrow and outrage and more political angst weave through the record. Next they released Life and Live (2005 Xeng), followed by The Air Force (2006 5 Rue Christine). Another live album came out in 2007, Live 7-26-04 (Stickfigure Distribution).
Women as Lovers (2008 Kill Rock Stars) is probably the most confrontational of all the releases, with the spooky Guatanamo Canto and the truly disturbing (to the point of being genuinely frightening) “Child at Arms.” The album also includes a cover version of “Under Pressure,” featuring Swans’ Michael Gira. As far as subject matter goes, the title of the next release, Dear God I Hate Myself (2010 Kill Rock Stars) speaks for itself, but the record isn’t without humor (“Chocolate Makes you Happy) or mischief, as they recorded some of it on a Nintendo DS. And it’s not without catchy pop songs, either — like the upbeat opener, “Gray Death.” Xiu Xiu create a knowing and truly inspired mix that bridges the gap between retro pop and contemporary experimental/electronica. Cerebral and highly emotive, they’re like an indie intelligentsia — in the know, but not at all flippantly so, and with such inventiveness, passion and authenticity that the effects are nothing short of stunning.