Sunday, May 28, 2006

Xiu Xiu: The Complete Discography

Calum Marsh

People really have a problem with Jamie Stewart. I love Xiu Xiu, but I can understand that: this isn't easy music to like. It's abrasive, challenging, and it often sounds bad - that is, the sounds aren't very pleasant, they're cacophonous. But music that sounds pleasant isn't good by default (Coldplay songs sure are pretty, aren't they?), and, by the same logic, music that doesn't sound pleasant isn't necessarily bad. Think about painting: it isn't the job of the visual art critic to determine the value of a painting based on whether or not the work looks nice - there are ghastly, frightening, and indeed even ugly paintings that are masterpieces, and for good reason. There's more to art criticism - any art, not just visual - than aesthetics.

A lot of people don't buy that line of thought, I know. Many people - people whose opinion I value and intelligence I respect - think that if sounds bad, it is bad; if it looks bad, it is bad; and so on. And that's fair enough. But I think it's worth exploring things more deeply. It's like the discussions I have about the artistic skill: people always blow off certain forms of art altogether - mostly modern, abstract, Dadaism - because they think it's "easy to do". Someone will look at an abstract painting and scoff, "I could have painted that". To those people, a painter is only good if his work looks "realistic", if it looks like a photograph. Yeah, yeah - it's so easy to say that. Never mind that painting shouldn't have to approximate reality literally because we've got photography for that, never mind that it's often the goal of a contemporary painter to think beyond traditional modes of expression and attempt to represent ideas and emotions in other ways - no, no, that doesn't matter. What matters is that they could have painted it. That's all that counts. Hear that guitar solo? I could have played that - therefore this song sucks. If it isn't difficult to do, it isn't good. Sigh.

I don't want to get into this discussion (it gets me riled up), but it's just like Xiu Xiu: a lot of art - indeed, most of the best art - requires that you think about it, really think about it, far beyond surface qualms. It doesn't look realistic? It doesn't sound pretty? Okay, fair enough. But that isn't a good complaint. Ask why it looks unrealistic. Why did the artist do that? Why does that matter? What does that do? Keep asking questions, then maybe you'll get it. And if you keep asking questions and you're still not satisfied, then you've got something to criticise.

Okay, so, time to give Xiu Xiu another chance. Here you go:

Xiu Xiu - A Promise
Rating: 8.5

Though it doesn't quite reach the soaring heights of Fabulous Muscles, A Promise remains one of Xiu Xiu's most remarkable records. It's not without it's flaws and it sounds considerably less refined than his later work, but there are enough memorable moments here to warrant your attention.

Xiu Xiu - Chapel Of The Chimes EP
Rating: 6.9

This brief EP was released only a few short months after Xiu Xiu's debut LP, and that rush hurts what could have been something much more definitive. A few of these tracks feel like album leftovers, but the surprisingly catchy (yes, a catchy Xiu Xiu song!) cover of Joy Division's 'Ceremony' more than makes up for those shortcomings.

Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
Rating: 10.0

Utterly flawless. Fabulous Muscles is one of the best albums of the past few years, and has a firm place on my list of favourite records ever. I can't recommend this disc highly enough. Of particular note is 'I Luv The Valley OH!', Xiu Xiu's recognizable and well liked songs. I'm sure even Casey can admit to enjoying that one.

Xiu Xiu - Fag Patrol
Rating: 7.8

This stripped-down acoustic LP finds Jamie Stewart temporarily retiring his trademark abrasiveness and instead expressing himself more, well, quietly. Anyone turned off by Xiu Xiu's tendency to be so damn weird will appreciate the surprising reservation of Fag Patrol. As much as I enjoy those classic fits of strange rage, it's admittedly much easier to enjoy Jamie Stewart when he's not scaring the hell out of you.

Xiu Xiu - Knife Play
Rating: 8.5

It's bizarre and at times downright disturbing, but Xiu Xiu's debut album is undeniably unlike anything you've ever heard before. This record basically split indie kids into two groups: those that adored Jamie Stewart and those that wanted him to shut the hell up. See also: Calum and Casey.

Xiu Xiu - La Foret
Rating: 8.0

Xiu Xiu's most recent recording is top-notch, but it's still a baby step back from its epic predecessor Fabulous Muscles. It isn't as immediately affecting as any of his earlier work, but it's considerably less flawed too. Probably the most "solid" Xiu Xiu record to date, and a sign of more good things to come.

Xiu Xiu - Life And Live
Rating: 6.0

Though Xiu Xiu puts on a mesmerizing live show (the best I've ever seen, in fact), the simple fact that live albums are inherently terrible stops this from being any good. If you want to hear a Xiu Xiu show, see one.


Xiu Xiu & Devendra Banhart - Split 7"
Rating: 7.8

Xiu Xiu's cover of Devendra Banhart's 'Body Breaks' is all well and good, but Devendra Banhart steals the show with his ingenious take on Xiu Xiu's spoken-word attack on the US Army 'Support Our Troops'. Hilarious but creepy.

Xiu Xiu & This Song Is A Mess But So Am I - Split 7"
Rating: 2.0

Xiu Xiu's loves these guys, and why shouldn't he? They sound exactly like him - except, you know, they're terrible. Too bad, because Xiu Xiu's track (an alternate version of Rose Of Sharon, one of the best songs on La Foret) is great.

Xiu Xiu - I Luv The Valley OH!
Xiu Xiu - Fast Car (Tracy Chapman Cover)
Xiu Xiu - I Broke Up
Xiu Xiu - Jennifer Lopez (Sweet Science Version)
Xiu Xiu - Ceremony (Joy Division Cover)
Xiu Xiu - Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw

Xiu Xiu - Life & Live
Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles

Comments on "Xiu Xiu: The Complete Discography"


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (28/5/06 6:45 pm) : 

I know we've had this conversation before, and I'm all for being a xiu xiu fan but...

there's the distinction of respecting artistic merit without feeling the need to listen to it.

I mean, to use your analogy, there's a lot of art that's likely nothing short of brilliant. I might go to a gallery and appreciate the hell out of it. But I'm still not going to hang it in the living room.


Blogger Calum Marsh said ... (28/5/06 8:16 pm) : 

Nice analogy! I can respect that.


Blogger Squashed said ... (28/5/06 10:58 pm) : 

well. a lot of living room is not equipt to fend of international gang of burglary for eg. :D (what are you trying to say? Pollack is nothing more than bad paint job?)

incidentally, I like 'the dead science', even more than xiu xiu. They meld free jazz and rock like nobody else. They are associated with xiu-xiu.


Blogger mfd said ... (29/5/06 2:43 pm) : 

Thanks for the discographies! I found the Xiu Xiu disco especially interesting as I haven't heard much of his work, but what I have heard I like (that's right Casey, even the cover of Fast Car).

I read the intro to the Xiu Xiu disco a few times, and I have but one question: Why do you like Xiu Xiu? Did I miss that part?


Anonymous Jeff said ... (29/5/06 7:48 pm) : 

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