iu Xiu’s Knife Play comes packaged with a warning label. Well, not a warning label exactly, but a deep red sticker that reads: “when my mom died, I listened to Henry Cowell, Joy Division, Detroit Techno, the Smiths, Takemitsu, Sabbath, gamelan, “Black Angels”, and Cecil Taylor”. Interesting. Is this a warning of the sounds to come? A primer inside the mindset of singer/songwriter/producer, Jamie Stewart? What? It turns out that it’s a bit of both.
When I started putting all those bands together in my head, I imagined a raging cacophony of anger, confusion, and despair. All set to that driving Detroit Techno beat. An awkward beast of pink, fleshy innards and an Iron Man skin.
Then why am I disappointed? My beast ended up being a shrieking whiner playing a Casio and posing dramatically in front of a wall of black dollar store candles. Poor Jamie made the mistake of listing some interesting things on the cover of his CD. It’s a double-edged sword. Maybe you get someone to buy your album because you listed a few bands they are interested. But you’d better follow that shit up. The music inside better live up to the list. Perhaps to some people it does, unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I’m one of the disgruntled customers.
So what does it end up sounding like anyway? To it’s credit, Knife Play, does emulate some of those bands, while remaining true to it’s self. Nothing sounds like Paranoid. There aren’t any Johnny Marr riffs to be found. But, there are aftertastes of all the “list” bands everywhere. A melodic clattering of bells leads an ominous wall of keyboard violins into Jamie’s shriek on the lead-off track, “Don Diasco”. Then chaos. Crashing Pans and gothic overtones gone wrong. It’s jerky. Everything stops and starts abruptly. Quite frankly, the music is pretty interesting, but already Jamie’s vocals are getting on my nerves. They remind me of the vocals that all the Goths in my high school did when they tried to start a band. Melodrama anyone? Quavering voice cracks? Anyone? Anyone? The next song, “I Broke Up (SJ)”, is a pretty dynamic song. The title of the song may smack of Trent Reznor, but don’t let that fool you. It’s more like Devo on PCP with a death wish. Keyboards take a back seat to the beat. Gentle ambient tones rest in the background before everything explodes and Jamie starts screaming. He’s a far better vocalist when he’s just letting noise come out, instead of trying to sound like every Goth singer that’s come before him. “DON’T FUCK WITH ME! DON’T FUCK WITH ME” he shouts. A bit later into the song everything stops and he throws a tantrum, taking a page from Frank Black’s book, “This is the worst vacation ever! I am going to cut open your forehead with a-OWW OWW!!!” It’s a bit disconcerting, and I laughed nervously the first time I heard it come out of the speakers. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not. I like it when music does that. Makes me uneasy and unsure of what’s happening. It’s one of the most effective moments on the album. Unfortunately, there aren’t many more.
After a while, the whole mess begins to get samey. I got tired of it awful quick. It’s a bit hard to say why. I think I just can’t take too much of his whining. It feels like a phase from high school that I passed. I’m over all that doom and gloom and self-pity. I’d rather hear this album without the vocals. The vocals really detract from the fascinating things going on in the music. All the layers and startling noises deserve space of their own.
My advice to Mr. Jamie Stewart is to leave the sticker off next time. Admittedly, I might have felt differently about this album if I hadn’t had built my hopes up with the list of names on the sticker. A lesson to all you musicians and songwriters out there. Don’t do it kids, don’t compare your tunes to other musicians. Let it live and breathe on its own.
Reviewed by: Colleen Delaney
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01