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Xiu Xiu - The Air Force

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Artist: Xiu Xiu

Album: The Air Force

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

The Air Force's album cover is an Eastern Orthodox-style painted image of Christ wearing the crown of thorns, and it makes complete sense. Invoking old world Christianity alongside a title that alludes to a new Christian hegemony screams out identity crisis, and identity crises are one of the major reasons Xiu Xiu has remained compelling after so many records.

While Jamie Stewart & co. succeed at replicating the fractured nature of their live shows – the mix of sparse and dense, broken and enraged, auxiliary percussion and programming, noise and melodiousness is all here – it's beginning to sound rote. The song structures are often too predictable, with too many elements used as ornaments instead of anchors. The lyrics seem weaker, too, as if Stewart is leaning toward impressionism and away from overarching themes. Ardent fans may appreciate the excess sonic and lyrical impressionism – they do allow for deeper discoveries upon repeated listens. But Xiu Xiu's strength is their epic self-seriousness and lack of ambiguity – the joy and devastation of the hyper-real.

Luckily, there are two songs that deliver: “Bishop, CA” and “Wig Master.” In “Bishop, CA,” Xiu Xiu envision the small town of Bishop, the so-called Mule Capital of the World, as the imaginary/real location where the Iraq War, mining disasters, and the politics of the American prison system come crashing together. It's one of those Xiu Xiu songs where Stewart, through an address, manifests a strikingly tragic interlocutor. At the end of the song, in a turn of simple, beautiful songwriting, the address ends, the interlocutor is lost, Jamie sings one of those self-serious hyperreal blissful lines – “Crying for the stupid world we share” – and it all explodes in a superb participatory mantra “Walla walla walla walla walla walla hey” – at once a reference to the prison and a breakdown of semantics. The liner notes reveal that the band supports the laudable Prison Literature Project. (So should you.)

“Wig Master” is a fragmented S&M ballad that manages to keep the war unavoidably present through some very nice aircraft carrier eroticism: “You don’t think of me as often as I’d like you to but / When you do it’s of me looking for you on the ship / The plane I am waiting on has your face printed on the wings / When it crashes I will eat the paint off.” The song was co-written by guest Devon Hoff and his bass playing stands out – the upper partials of his bass drones tear at your ears while Stewart testifies.

By Suriku Rineto

Other Reviews of Xiu Xiu

Chapel of the Chimes

Fabulous Muscles

La Forêt

Dear God, I Hate Myself


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