Xiu Xiu – Women as Lovers

Xiu Xiu
Women as Lovers

I don’t know where it was that I read it but someone told me that nobody else sounds like Xiu Xiu and without any doubt or question in my mind, I agreed. The San Francisco outfit, led by Jamie Stewart, are one of the most unique musical acts currently making music. Their brand of challenging and extremely personal music is distinctive and something that only Stewart and co. can do. And with Women as Lovers they have created one of their more accessible and cohesive albums to date.

In many ways, Xiu Xiu has been able to maintain its steady stance as being part of the indie-rock/pop genre and the avant-garde stylists. While this line is often blurred, even by Xiu Xiu themselves, their songs are carefully crafted pop songs with beautiful intimate touches all around. One specific example are the almost atonal horns that appear on a few songs. On the album’s closer, “Gayle Lynn,” the brass sound like an extension of the song. They swirl around as their arrangement allows them to inject life into the song. On the other end, the opener, “I Do What I Want, When I Want” features one of the best avant-garde saxes I have ever heard. The solo towards the end of the song is so dissonant and syncopated that you wonder if it even really fits. The wondrous thing is that it’s a perfect match for Women as Lovers experimental and dark undertones.

Darkness is a matter that Xiu Xiu have long mastered and continue to flaunt it. On “In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall,” Stewart belts his lyrics like if he is screaming directly at someone who has done him tremendously wrong. It eventually relapses into soothing musical passages before the drums pound away again. The brooding music, accompanied by bombastic drums, make it a compelling and memorable song.

Some of the better moments on Women as Lovers happen when Stewart hones in his singing and offers more personal vocals as he does on the back-to-back quietness of “Black Keyboard” and “Master of the Bump (Kurt Stumbaugh, I Can Feel the Soil Falling Over My Head).” On the former, Stewart is backed by a beguiling guitar line and wonderful atmospheric touches. The song ends up being one of the best on the entire album because it conveys another humanistic side to this band. On “Master…” an acoustic guitar backs more quiet vocals by Stewart as he sadly sings, “I will never dance again.” Often times, it sounds almost like Stewart is about to breakdown and cry—a poignant and nice touch.

The album is certainly filled with many tremendous moments but even though Xiu Xiu’s signature style is admirable, it can be testing at times. This is minimal though as songs like “Puff and Bunny” and the standout song, “No Friend Oh!” have enough juice and instrumentation to deliver some of the album’s sweetest moments. There is even a terrific cover of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” that features guest vocals by Angels of Light frontman, Michael Gira. Gira plays Bowie to Stewart’s Freddy Mercury and the song is still just as catchy and yes, has that instantly recognizable bassline.

With their first release for the Kill Rock Stars label, Xiu Xiu has not sold out, at all. They still possess all of the elements that have made them avant-garde darlings. And with Stewart being the proponent chief behind everything, his music is unmatched. This is one amazing album by great musicians, what they have done with their entire discography is impressive and Women as Lovers is a fine addition to that exceptional catalog.