Reviews Xiu Xiu Life and Live

Xiu Xiu

Life and Live

Xiu Xiu are an anomaly in modern music. This at least, if nothing else, fans and critics of the group can agree on. Intermittently fragile, sad, tense, evocative, provocative and even humorous, the emotionof Xiu Xiu itself is overwhelming. Mix this with the often aggressive screeching broken electronic feel of a lot of the musical accompaniment and the on-edge, straight-from-the-asylum vocal delivery and you have a musical unit impossible to pigeon hole or categorize. But what happens when the musical assault is stripped away? Does the naked emotion stand up on its own when there is nothing else to focus upon? Tracks such as "Fast Car" (from 2003's A Promise) and the title track from last year's critically lauded Fabulous Muscles proved that, within the context of a full album, it could. This new collection mostly comprising of previously released songs essentially tackles the question of whether or not the band can remain vital and captivating when stripped down to their barest roots for the duration of an entire record.

Containing all nine tracks that comprised 2003's limited edition mini album, Fag Patrol, along with a spattering of live tracks recorded during the groups American tour with Devendra Banhart two years ago and the incredibly rare "Thanks Japan", Life and Live inevitably has a pieced together, somewhat disjointed feel to it. This doesn't retract from the excellent music offered here though; "I Broke Up" replaces the fierce sonic assault of the original with some sparse acoustic guitar, yet remains no less disturbing, "Nieces Pieces" is emotionally fraught and the cover of The Smith's "Asleep" retains the inherent beauty of the often overlooked Morrissey classic. "Helsabot" never really goes above a hushed whisper which manages to create a dark, melancholic mood but offsets this with lyrics like "I am Helsabot, alcohol fueled robot" that can't help but raise a smile.

These songs though provide nothing for those who already own Fag Patrol. Enter the bait: previously unreleased live tracks. Five songs recorded in 2003 that once again find Jamie Stewart without the barrage of sound behind him, forced to replace the noise breakdowns in songs like "Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl" with improvised voice "noises", for lack of a better word. The results are "interesting", again for lack of a better word. Unquestionably it will grab the listener's attention but it's a thin line between being genuinely impressive and interesting, and down right laughable. However, even when they reach their most brow-furrowing Xiu Xiu still manage to drip sincerity from ever chord, and that more than anything else is what makes them so vital.

While some of the live tracks ("Sad Redux-o-grapher", "Clover") are poorly recorded and marred by the audience talking in the background and "Thanks Japan" will be of no real interest to anyone other than the most hopelessly devoted, the record is still a success if mostly due to the high quality of the Fag Patrol songs. What is made abundantly clear is that Jamie Stewart is not necessarily at his most unnerving when he's screaming over a broken up tinnitus inducing noise attack but rather when he's whispering quietly into your ear.

8.2 / 10Neil
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2005

8.2 / 10

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