Xiu Xiu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Xiu Xiu 

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On Knife Play (5 Rue Christine), the debut album by the San Jose quartet Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoo-shoo"), Jamie Stewart's shrill caterwaul contains more than a trace of Robert Smith's signature whine. He's cited Joy Division and the Smiths as key influences, and he recently told a Portland paper, "There was a time when we were trying to have some feeling of relief [in the music], but the world is such a fucking disaster that seems really stupid." Otherwise, though, Xiu Xiu's music is refreshingly free of the usual gloom signifiers--no descending guitar riffs, dirgey rhythms, or spooky synths. If anything, they bear a passing resemblance to the late Talk Talk, whose static rhythmic settings served as a foundation for wild dynamic leaps and collages of unpredictable colors. Unobtrusive drum machine programming gives the music its relentless pulse; it's often bolstered by both twitching synthesized bass tones and Cory McCulloch's real bass lines, which creates an anticipatory tension from the get-go. Lauren Andrews and Yvonne Chen add bells, gongs, and terse isolated lines on trumpet and piano. Stewart alternates between electric guitar, which usually comes in piercing feedback stabs or corrosive washes, and harmonium; on Knife Play, at least, the band expands to include a raft of guest horn players, an accordionist, a cellist, and a few drummers. Xiu Xiu's greatest strength is the way they balance explosive chaos and painterly detail; their weakness is Stewart's occasional emotional excess. The spastic Sacramento math-rock duo Hella headlines. Saturday, April 13, 10 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700.


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