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    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    Review #2: The Air Force by Xiu Xiu

    The Air Force - Xiu Xiu

    Dare I say that Xiu Xiu's The Air Force is its most accessible album to date? Or even its most pleasant(!?) listen yet? Of course, accessibility is relative and there's still no danger of Zack Braff looking sad to Jamie Stewart's damaged wail. No, this is simply freaky-avant-blip-rock-band- from-the-Bay-Area-accessible, but when it sounds this good and flows this well, you won’t even object to the occasional choruses.

    There are a few other welcome additions to the Xiu Xiu palette. First, we have multi-instrumentalist Caralee McElroy stepping up to the mic on "Hello From Eau Claire." Keeping the transgressive spirit alive, she gives voice to a heartbroken man (and, it seems, drag queen) trying to declare his independence. There's also a creepy spoken-word assault expanding on the groundwork of "Support Our Troops OH!" and an instrumental that sounds like a manic Japanese tea ceremony ("Wig Master" and "Saint Pedro Glue Stick" respectively). Finally, we even have some actual live drumming courtesy of Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, who also produced the album.

    Otherwise, The Air Force hews pretty close to Xiu Xiu's earlier efforts, which I mean as a real compliment. There's the usual array of violated hearts and bruised bodies, the tension between lightheartedness and gut-socking pain, the thin line between love and sadomasochism. And of course, it comes loaded with bizarre images and elusive connections (I like to pretend that "Boy Soprano" is an ode to Robert Iler), just as assuredly as the electronics are still dense, weird and unrelenting.

    Standout tracks include "Buzz Saw," a Gaitskill-style love story and "Bishop, CA," one of the rare instances where the political trumps the personal. (According to Wikipedia, the reason Stewart chose the album title was to have the U.S. Armed Forces waste money on Google ads reaching his fans instead of potential enlistees.) After a few listens, the album really comes together though, perhaps better than anything previous and definitely better than the still-difficult Knife Play. Leave it to Xiu Xiu to even take a dirty word like accessible and make it sound this beautiful. 8.5/10

    * MP3: "Buzz Saw" - Xiu Xiu from The Air Force [Buy it]

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