• xiu xiu Women As Lovers (double LP, £14.95)

    label: Absolutely Kosher

    REVIEW FROM THE LINE OF BEST FIT: Xiu Xiu have built up a reputation over the years as a ‘difficult’ band, and it’s easy to see why. Their music is devoutly artistic in intent, with glimpses of tender melodic beauty punctuated with bursts of raw, discordant noise, jarring percussion and violent poetry. Xiu Xiu’s output has encompassed explorations of gender anxiety, nihilism, war, murder, HIV, and tales of grinding fear, psychological horror and sexual obsession, told in the distinctive wailing falsetto of founder member Jamie Stewart and a rotating cast of band members. Women As Lovers is a typically overwhelming Xiu Xiu record in its themes, instrumentation and delivery; an impassioned, desperate document that moves through extreme emotional states, from minimal string-picking bleakness to maximalist distorted howling, from chiming bells and crashing gongs to exquisitely painful key touches and singalongs. Each song is like an elephant in the room, bursting out of its own fragile skin, writhing with awkwardness and mad with pent-up meaning and desire. It’s as if the songs’ structures are too small to hold the spirit that Stewart impregnates them with, and a song will often fly off in a genuinely surprising direction, bursting into a dissonant saxophone solo, twisting into a mathy Tortoise-esque passage or dissolving into waves of in-the-red peaking drum battery from percussionist Ches Smith. It’s hard to put into words how emotionally affecting this music can be if you let it into your head - and with such a consistently astounding level of creativity at play, it’s hard not to. An audacious cover version of one of the Western world’s favourite pop songs, ‘Under Pressure’, performed with Michael Gira in the laconic David Bowie sections and Stewart performing a hysterical Freddy Mercury, imbues the lyrics with a new poignancy in this context; “the terror of knowing what this world is about“, indeed. Women As Lovers offers rich rewards to those who can get through its swathes of lyrical awkwardness and layers of perverse audio density, overflowing with dark insight, unyielding creativity and a kind of inspiration unheard in anything else I’ve come across. 90%

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