Up high and ugly: Xiu Xiu MP3s
|It's all too fitting that Xiu Xiu gets me playing mindgames. After all, this is music that's nothing if not insular, demented, perverted and bipolar, a push-and-pull of psychic and physical scars. For the last week, I've been agonizing and debating over how I should rank the band's five albums-proper and on what criteria. Complicating matters considerably, best to worst doesn't seem to be an adequate metric—it's something more like most manageable to least manageable, or most inflinctive to least inflictive.|
The cause of all this hopscotching and hand-wringing is my recent return to their 2005 effort, La Forêt. It had never made as much of a dent on me as my long-maintained favorite, Fabulous Muscles, or their latest output, The Air Force. There were certainly songs from La Forêt I loved upon contact ("Muppet Face," "Pox") but the album's flow felt too frontloaded and uneven, stilted with too many self-defeatingly slow, bedraggled moments detracting from the surrounding mindfuck-pop.
But two years later, with new ears and in the wake of The Air Force, I'm retracting that criticism. I'm even strongly considering shifting La Forêt into the number two slot of whatever hierarchy I settle on. More and more, it (along with the ever-present Fabulous Muscles) seems like the ideal midpoint between the raw inaccessibility and sonic sadism of debut Knife Play and the kinder, gentler (by admittedly distorted Xiu Xiu standards anyway) resolutions of The Air Force.
Yes, La Forêt has always been prickly and dense, exotic and imposing and immense, everything suggested by its suggestive title. But what I originally viewed as flaws in the flow now sound more like strengths, obstructions and rough patches that prevent it from being fully loved and understood. They contribute the requisite lows to an arc that feels real and sloppy, a true peek into a mind's wilderness. And though I may never rock out to the whispery, clawed-from-the-soul narrative of "Dangerous, You Shouldn't Be Here," it drains me and draws me in enough to make the battering finale of "Yellow Raspberry" all the more explosively ultimate. In other words, the trudgy moments are necessary here as moats to cross or beasts to battle.
In contrast, The Air Force now strikes me as perhaps a little too clean. I loved it for sheathing its pain in pop like a beauty queen's black eye caked in foundation. It made the moments of breakdown and the deviations from a rehearsed script all the more thrilling (take the nonsense end of "Bishop, CA" for one). I loved the way Jamie Stewart's voice quivered on the precipice of tumbling over the edge and how the industrial melodies threatened to shatter inoperably at every twisted turn.
But with some distance, I also wonder if the limited number of actual malfunctions makes The Air Force too digestible. If it's a diagnosis of dressing up the ugliest things in stitches and sequins, it also feels like a closed file, a therapy session cut off after the treatment's worked. La Forêt however isn't interested in disguising the mess so much as letting it spill out. While it may not be nearly as easy to glimpse, it comes off as far more unsolved and unresolved among the two. I still feel the compulsion to pay it visits and (psycho)analyze every traumatic note. I still need to pick up its pieces, pick at its fresh scabs, try to reassemble it into something coherent. If The Air Force is the next-day repackaging of the hurt, La Forêt is the night of. It's the damage and the damager, the wreckage still flying in slow-motion trajectories, the fists and fingers still wrapped around their targets.
* MP3: "Muppet Face" - Xiu Xiu from La Forêt
* MP3: "Yellow Raspberry" - Xiu Xiu from La Forêt [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Xiu Xiu