Xiu Xiu 
Chapel of the Chimes ep
/absolutely kosher; 2002/

rating : 



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Xiu Xiu are punk. Not in an oï/Rancid way. Not even in a Liars way (i mean, the Liars' singer sports a mullet/mohawk haircut and a John Waters moustache™, like if didn't know whether he wanted to be a punk or a redneck). They are punk in a Joy Division way. And I don't say that because they covered Ceremony on the ep. They share with Joy Division the same cold and desperate hopelessness, Jamie Stewart's tight voice conveys the same wild emergency as Ian Curtis'. But the music isn't the same. This was not an obvious rock-critic-comparison. I'm not even a proper rock critic : I don't read the NME. I was not 100% sincere when I said that the comparison was not motivated by the cover. I was 90% sincere, which is fairly above the quotas. I mean, Xiu Xiu's awesome lp, Knife Play, made me think of Joy Division. Just because of the desperate sadness. You know something is wrong when a song about suicide or AIDS is uplifting, danceable or just downright merry. And Xiu Xiu, just like Joy Division and Berlin's Lou Reed, sublimate sadness. Jamie Stewart, Ian Curtis and the early Lou Reed are brothers united by despair. Stewart sounds like a man on the brink of falling apart, so surprised that he's still here that he quickly tells his stories with a childish, irreverent laugh, hardly wasting time to breathe. I think the Joy Division cover helped me realize this completely. The song is distorted, almost freakish, with creaking keyboards and the haunted voice piercing their way to your ear. What struck me was the passion with which Stewart sings the song, almost like a fan (that he probably is), but the result of the psychotic singing and sonic assault, contrasting with the laughing bells and drums in the back, is a totally refreshed and updated version of the song. 

The cover is the band's most song-like song so far and it will probably earn them a few new fans. But the ep goes further in the musical exploration, it works as a whole but you have pay attention to like it. It doesn't come naturally to you. Or maybe it does. I haven't really tried not to pay attention to it. 

Cory from the Absolutely Kosher label sent me a free AK sampler a few weeks ago, and I just listened to two songs in repeat, Xiu Xiu's Jennifer Lopez, at the time unreleased material but now on the ep, and the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up's Double Negative (from their album Homemade Drugs, which will be awesome if all the songs on it are half as good as this one). I didn't really like J. Lo at first, it was too fast, too short. But it grew on me, probably like a disease or something. I instantly liked its twin brother, and i listened to the two tracks in infinite repeat when I was not listening to Knife Play or Turn on the Bright Lights. I kept on listening to J Lo because I liked Knife Play so much, which makes me wonder at my objectivity as a reviewer. Anyway. I ended up liking it, loving it. It is Xiu Xiu's craziest track so far if you don't count I Broke Up (SJ) from the lp. It's a three minutes long crescendo with layers of cello, noise, cymbals, keyboards and guitars with Stewart's voice like a black cherry on top of this poisoned cake.

So far i basically told you all the good i think of this band, but to be honest, this ep is not as convincing as Knife Play. Maybe it's not the point, maybe their goal was just to explore new territory, to see how far they could stretch their sound. It has some great moments though, like the warm, moving end of King Earth, King Earth, the cello rebellion in One-Thousand-Times-a-Minute, the oppressive, bulldozer-like Jennifer Lopez and the impressive cover of Ceremony. This song sounds like the ascending part of a jump into empty space : high above the ground, waiting for the fall.

It is Ceremony that underlines what lacks in this ep : a sense of emergency. Maybe it's just me, but Xiu Xiu never sound better than when they have a structure to work in, some limits to hold their wildness down. If you've never heard of Xiu Xiu before reading this review, Knife Play is a better place to start. If you already liked Knife Play, you will probably like this ep, which goes further in the experimental side of their music, while putting aside the catchiness and burning emergency of their debut.

-Barbara H

/oct 1st 2002/