Xiu Xiu – [Album]

Monday, 14 May 2007

At the heart of a good cover pulses synthesis.

Requiring more than just fidelity to note, timbre, and technique, a few good covers exceed their predecessors (dare I suggest The Byrds' version of "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man"?) but most re-workings of widely loved and well-crafted songs simply bring about works of faithful, albeit limited, duplications. A good rendering obliges more than just love.

In listening to the eclectic collection of songs and songsters on this album I realize that a successful cover is also about coming clean: it is as much about revealing the private relationship between the song and the self as it is about ingenuity. In adapting these songs, these musicians have explained Xiu Xiu back to me as their own through tender crafting. Maybe my ear is predisposed to hear it this way in light of the fact that Xiu Xiu have always slanted a bit towards the confessional. But for the most part, the musicians of Xiu Xiu Remixed and Covered have remained faithful to the quivering, breaking, worse-for-wear dynamism of the Stewart-McElroy combo in new and divulging ways.

Crooning rough in wry Johnny Cash fashion, anticon records' boppers WHY? tell the mighty masculinity of agony and angst buried in Stewart's stories, even when admitting to the most explicit of sexual secrets and heartbreak. In "The Wig Master," WHY? gracefully deliver Stewart's trademark direct lyrics (it's not very easy to sing "cum" and "spank your ass" if you're immature like me) to a winding guitar plucking out a cascade and subtle electronic swells which encircle the whole composition. Even in the midst of sexual exploits, WHY? choose to highlight the sting of the wig maker who knows that despite everything, "you don't think of me very often these days." As for the reasons why Xiu Xiu choose to expose rather than hide, WHY? argue that revelations aren't so much about weakness as they are about intensity. The track following "The Wig Master" yields yet another interpretation of Xiu Xiu's labor of love. Wretchedness at its best, "I Luv The Valley OH!" is my all-time favorite Xiu Xiu song and I never sought to look at it as anything else except unfulfilled longing till now. Yelp and yowl are transformed into Her Space Holiday's upbeat poppin’ rock—a track laid down on a thumping piano punched with parlor bluesy playfulness. Although never thought possible, "I Luv The Valley OH!" slides and shimmies like something out of John Kander's Chicago. Even still, the flat delivery won't let go of the dry desperation of someone who's "thinking your name almost everyday" and flirting with razors and pills.

Other notables on the album include Marissa Nadler's folk, exhaling cool frailty in "Clowne Towne," and Sunset Rubdown's fitful rendition of "Aspitat Commander," as Spencer Krug repeats "Oh my god" all through the end of the song in an expression of the apocalyptic winding down-and-out. Finger snaps loosely keep rhythm as Devendra Banhart spins out "Support Our Troops" in sparse and languid quirkiness. Xiu Xiu are fared well and devotedly all throughout.

It's not a surprise that one half of this double album contains electronic remixes of Xiu Xiu songs. Xiu Xiu have always made effective use of unconventional sounds: tip-tapping electroclash rhythms and reticent zooming synths fall together to facilitate Xiu Xiu's emotive fall aparts. But like all re-workings, a very distinct line separates the hit from the miss. With that said, some songs in this half of the record pulse with a misplaced bad house beat, as seen in "Hello From Eau Claire." Much like the bad music you hear at that gothic clothing store, the kinds with all the spiked leather gear and shiny dark blue polyester, this remix brings out the sinister quality nascent in Xiu Xiu except in deplorable dance form. The song stands well originally and as the saying goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it. The best remix track on the album is "Suha." Like precarious jumps from rock to rock across a bottomless river, Stewart's voice twists away from the melody like a loose foothold on stone and the song waxes and wanes with a purposeful uneasiness. These minor misses at the melody create tension with the possibility of drowning in mysterious water, and especially in a song about dissatisfaction and death of sorts, this sonic unsteadiness precisely captures the emotional and mental trembling of the song's characters.

Covers are always sniffed at with a certain amount of disdain because it is a difficult task to remake a song, and bad covers are aplenty. To be Xiu Xiu is to bleed. Bent by pain and catharsis, this collection of Xiu Xiu covers are crutched by interpretation, inventiveness and love, making it an album able to stand on its own.

Xiu Xiu Remixed and Covered is Out now

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