asily becoming the next Smiths in terms of their prolificacy in such a short amount of time, Xiu Xiu have put out nothing short of a good chunk of truly emotional and disturbingly delicate experimental rock nigh these past few years.
Releasing their caustically focused debut Knife Play in early 2002, Xiu Xiu slinked back into the studio and recorded the tracks that would become both the Chapel of the Chimes EP and their sophomore release, A Promise, which has garnered nearly unanimous praise, along with indie-rumblings, over its stark (yet perfectly appropriate, says this writer) cover art photo of a decrepit Vietnamese hustler taken by lead singer Jamie Stewart in Hanoi.
Naked Asians aside, Xiu Xiu has just done an about-face and released a limited-to-1000-copies, beautifully hand stenciled album, of Jamie Stewart covering six previously released Xiu Xiu songs, one new track, one Smiths cover, and a Ten in the Swear Jar (Stewart and Cory McCulloch’s pre-Xiu Xiu band) tune -- acoustically.
Surprisingly, the blistering, often schizophrenically danceable Xiu Xiu studio instrumentation transfers more than adequately to the bare bones acoustics of Fag Patrol. The austerity of the tracks consequently give the vocals of Stewart the utmost importance to each track. On “20,000 Deaths for Eidelyn Gonzales, 20,000 Deaths for Jamie Peterson” Stewart stammers each word in a half moan, half sigh. The chorus, which was slightly overshadowed in the original version by the instrumental screeching, is now heard in all its painfully orgasmic glory; it consists of nothing more than soft wailing, which is written as “hmm hmm hoot hoot” in the A Promise liner notes. The feel good hit of last summer, “I Broke Up” is significantly slowed down, and of the seven previously released songs, it sounds the most unlike its predecessor. The acoustic melody sounds only faintly like that of the original, but Stewart’s vocal melody keeps it grounded. The now infamous “roof shingle” paroxysm is reversed, with Stewart now speedily whispering the line, making the line sound even more caricatured. None of this is pejorative, though, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The acoustic guitar lends a warm and less mechanical tone to what is sure to be the track for which Xiu Xiu will be remembered.
Both “Dr. Troll” and “King Earth, King Earth” don’t stray far from their original counterparts. The former actually loses the intense emotion that the initial version exuded. The omission of the ear slitting feedback after Stewart cries “Preschool students ask her / What she is / She thinks I don’t know / But she says what do you think?!” sterilizes the forceful emotion that the original captured. “King Earth, King Earth” rides along a similar harmonium as the previous version, only louder, and sans the pots-and-pans percussion. The haunting “Oh, Angelina” line is hidden underneath the harmonium as well. Meh. I just can’t ever see myself actually preferring to listen to either of these versions, except as part of the album as a whole, when the originals are so far superior.
Morrissey’s piano based felo-de-se tale, “Asleep”, is given the acoustic treatment. Either Stewart’s voice really is similar to the Mozzers, or it simply sounds so in the context, but it’s obvious where one of Stewart’s main vocal influences came from. Perhaps one can hope for a Bryan Ferry “Slave to Love” cover in the future?
The one new song, “Nieces Pieces” is a gem. Built around harmonium, upright bass, and Stewart’s repeated “I can’t wait” lyric consisting of the protagonist giving the young niece brutally honest life lessons: “Can’t wait to meet the first boy that breaks your life / I can’t wait till you realize the family you’ve been born into.” Stewart ends the song with incomprehensible moaning as the bass subsides.
Fag Patrol’s stripping of Xiu Xiu’s spontaneously intricate arrangements down to their bare chords is for those fans who are more fascinated with the histrionic and lyrical aspect of their music, or maybe it’s just a way for Jamie Stewart to rest his bleeding ears. Either way, the skeleton of Xiu Xiu’s music is just as dark, and just as harrowing.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01