Xiu Xiu have created the musical equivalent of a fever dream, and it’s impossible not to love a record that can terrify this well.
Xiu Xiu are unorthodox. Every aspect of Xiu Xiu’s music is an attempt to be as avant-garde and challenging as humanly possible. Even as an established experimental act, Xiu Xiu still alienate both casual and hard-core fans, whether this be through releasing an album consisting entirely of dark ambient influenced covers of Nina Simone songs or by creating hideous, synthesised walls of noise. Despite the negative connotations of these descriptions, there is a certain talent to making something both hideous and enjoyable, a talent shared by both Xiu Xiu and Twin Peaks creator, David Lynch. It is, therefore, exciting that Xiu Xiu’s latest release would be Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks.
The music presented by Xiu Xiu is every bit as odd as expected. The band juggles multiple genres on a single record; seen are elements of ambient, dark ambient, dark jazz, experimental rock and even field recordings, all in an attempt to create an album and an atmosphere that feels just as unnatural and disturbing as its source material. Pieces such as Into the Night are especially notable examples of the world conjured by Xiu Xiu, a reverb heavy, post-rock style track. Bass notes drone under dissonant bells and swirling synths while the song itself is fronted by almost indecipherable shaky tenor and baritone vocals. Oddly, Into the Night acts as one of the more conventional songs on the album. Ambient works such as Nightsea Wind mark a change in direction with less focus on melody and more focus on texture and timbre, ambient pads rise and fall while electronics seem to glitch in the background, most of the sounds cannot be heard past their own reverb, under it all is a pulsating bass akin to a beating heart or a creeping death. Despite this, at a length of over seven minutes, the ambient nature of Nightsea Wind may struggle to hold the listeners attention once all have already been put on display. It can act as a test of patience rather than a test of musical boundaries.
Despite this change in direction, the flow between each piece feels natural, the difference between Into the Night and Nightsea Wind seem almost minute when taken in the context of the record. Dark ambience, reverberation and terror chain each individual song (often of a different genre) to the next. The distinct example would be Nightsea Wind and the follow up track Blue Frank: Pink Room. While Nightsea Wind is a dark ambient piece, Blue Frank: Pink Room acts as a noise rock track, vocals are distorted and guitar solos are over a bombastic rhythm section. The two songs are polar opposites, yet the same musical themes tie these two songs together perfectly, dissonance, distortion, reverb. The same can be said for Sycamore Tree, a dark jazz influenced song with an aged piano hammering at deep, droning notes. The vocals particularly stand out with Stewart’s vibrato heavy baritone both whispering and wailing, creating the sound of a seedy jazz club; the song reverberates as if to give the idea of Stewart performing to a dreary and desolate empty room.
Just like its source material, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks is unnatural, it is disturbing and above all, it should not a work, yet it is precisely because of this that Xiu Xiu have created an album that works so well. The band creates an atmosphere unlike most works heard in the modern experimental music scene; they glide from genre to genre like a wraith and drown the listener in their haunting atmosphere. Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks is an album that, even at its most disturbing and uncanny is impossible not to love, even if that love is a love of all that is abnormal and wrong.
This Xiu Xiu article was written by Oliver Wheeler, a GIGsoup contributor