In early 2002, Northern California’s Xiu Xiu released one of the most ridiculously challenging and morosely honest avant-garde pieces of indie electronic pop to date, borrowing elements of British post-punk, noisy electronic techno and, most interestingly, the Gamelan Orchestra. Knife Play was hailed by some and cast aside by even more for its histrionics and nonsensical wordplay — many considered picking it up simply for its influences, which are methodically deconstructed and reworked into a darkly cohesive and chaotic wall of beats, rhythm, static, and sound. Still, most people had a hard time getting past singer Jamie Stewart’s constant vocal freak-outs, which sounded like Suicide’s Alan Vega getting molested by Ian Curtis.
Xiu Xiu has followed up Knife Play with A Promise, an equally challenging and beautiful piece of work. Once again borrowing from the aforementioned influences (even going so far as titling a song “Ian Curtis Wishlist”), the band now favors a more subtle approach and sparse instrumentation. But the extremely honest lyrics and abstract arrangement still root out more sensitive ears — this is not for everyone.
That this album may be easily passed over in stores or destroyed after contact with audio devices is truly a shame, further proof that the record-buying public only wants prepackaged, watered-down electronic pop reminiscent of this year’s Postal Service record, Give Up (while not a total failure, it lacked a real drive and purging catharsis that burns through every track on A Promise). If you have a wild streak, an open ear, or a voyeuristic fixation on the darker parts of the human psyche, this might be the album you never thought you needed to hear.