Known for the extreme “love it or hate it” attitude their music inspires. The California based band Xiu Xiu renews their signature dissonance in The Air Force, their fifth album to date.
Vocalist Jamie Stewart weaves influences of art, culture, literature and world events into personal stories, using a dark narration in his music that is disturbingly beautiful in its vulnerability. The generally melancholy tone of the songs is contrasted by unexpected crashes and shouts, creating a mood of desperation and tragedy.
Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier produced the new album. His influence shines through in several instances, such as the piano playing on a track entitled “Buzz Saw”. Stewart said, “Greg does some singing; the music is very clearly the sort of thing he’d put together. There’s a kind of hallucinogenic experience on what he worked on [in the album].”
Xiu Xiu’s lineup and guest musicians have changed throughout the years. It currently consists of Stewart’s cousin Caralee McElroy in addition to Ches Smith and Stewart himself. They hope to continue working with new artists in the future. When asked what qualities they seek in collaborators, Stewart replied, “Mostly something special about what they’re doing; something new. We work with people who play music for the sake of music instead of fashion or scenes. People who are playing for real and who mean it.”
This sort of genuine passion for music can be seen during the studio process. The songs are as much a result of planning as they are of improvisation and ‘cut and paste’ techniques.
Generally, the process started with the melody and subject matter already figured out, and ended with writing the lyrics. However, true to the volatile nature of their music, songs also evolved through suggestions and openness within the band.
“I don’t think we ever have any expectations,” stated Stewart.
Though the album is titled The Air Force, which refers to the impersonal way in which the Air Force operates and destroys, the album itself does not have one single theme. “Each album is sort of a document of the events of that year”, said Stewart. These events range from politics to deeply personal losses and worries.
McElroy’s influence is seen more on this album than ever. She even sings on a track entitled “Hello From Eau Claire”. The song is thought by some to be the album’s chef d’oeuvre, due to the truly innovative sound it produces.
McElroy’s vocals are childlike with a matter-of-fact innocence that coincides with pleasant, cheerful xylophone sounds. However, true to Xiu Xiu’s style, the sweet mood of the xylophone pings and vocals are perturbed by lyrics such as “I can buy my own cigarettes/ I can pluck my own mustache.”
Xiu Xiu, pronounced “shoo-shoo”, is embedded in art. That can be seen in the often controversial and taboo graphics they use on their album covers and merchandise.
Although Stewart is an art fan, he modestly sees himself as “an uneducated” one. He professes that, “art is a big part of making music. We’re really fortunate to have a real talented circle of friends. I myself try to have little to do with the artwork.”
Xiu Xiu has recently begun the progressive release of “About The Air Force”, a three part and twenty-four piece poster series themed according to the album, its songs, and Xiu Xiu itself.
Using an impressively vast array of instruments such as drum-machines, keyboards, bells, gongs, guitars and much more, the experimental music is colored by integrating unusual sounds. When asked which new instruments or musical styles he would like to explore Stewart replied, “Everything!”
Often noted for the fast pace in which they tour and create new music, one can’t help but note the passionate driving force the band has.
Stewart said that he hopes to “continue to tour regularly. It’s a great opportunity to do that. Nothing is better.”
Xiu Xiu plays La Sala Rossa, Oct. 19.
Opening Acts: Cong For Brums and the Dirty Projectors.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door.