Review : XXL - Dude
PitchforkDespite the playful name of their collaborative project, XXL, neither American art-pop benders Xiu Xiu nor Italian weird-rock shifters Larsen seem to make music casually. For his part, Xiu Xiu foundation Jamie Stewart told me earlier this year that the band is how he's mostly organized his emotional life for two decades. "Not to sound over-dramatic," he said sitting in a sandwich shop, "but Xiu Xiu is totally essential to me getting through life." Whether in videos doused with vomit, songs chronicling struggles with suicide or sexual slavery, or albums that demand concessions to discomfort, intensity is an inherent quality of Xiu Xiu. As for Larsen's teeming sound worlds, the Torino quintet has previously worked with David Tibet, Michael Gira, and Steven Stapleton, three bandleaders known for the relentlessness of their oeuvres and approaches. On the brilliant 2007 live set ABECEDA, they revealed themselves as an elite instrumental ensemble, able to command an hour onstage with both grace and thunder.
But Düde, the pairing's third full-length released and first since 2007's ¿Spicchiology?, comes pleasantly marked by a sense of overriding ease, or at least the feeling that neither act fussed over or fiddled with these songs as much as they might have with their own. The big band-- Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo, plus all of Larsen-- originally improvised these pieces, rearranged them, and quickly put down the definite versions found here. Less songs per se than largely instrumental structured jams, these pieces seem undecided. "Absorption", for instance, feels at first like a workout in Harmonia worship, with tinkling bells and pulsating synthesizers washing into a solid state of reverie. Midway through, though, a chorus of squawking horns cuts in, providing a non sequitur stopgap that has very little to do with the conclusion of skittering noise and jarring guitars and even less to do with the halcyon start. Closer "Vaire", the one song Stewart sings here, allows for the kind of excess that he'd likely bowdlerize from his own albums. Before his unmistakably pained voice shows up, the outfit simply decorates the beat with a craggy guitar line, manipulated drum machines, and washes of noise; after he sings a verse, they rupture the beat until it falls apart, a trail of percussion and synthesizer whir following behind the fading pulse. The indulgence gives Stewart's pathos a rare patina of comfort and approachability. That is, if one of Xiu Xiu's chief assets is his urgency, Stewart works quite well in the absence of it, too.
That's symptomatic of XXL's real success on Düde, a record that finds its components pushing each other places they might not necessarily find themselves. They're better for it. The 18-minute "Oi! Düde" is a bold, pure sprawl of Krautrock inspiration, XXL building very slowly and indirectly into a climax of noise, drums, and droning tones. "Krampus" might not only be the most surprising thing here but also in the collective discography of both Xiu Xiu and Larsen. Drifting in like smoke, it's a ringer for a lost Six Organs of Admittance take, with guitars and oscillators intertwining around a xylophone core. Seo reads in Korean, her distant and diffident tone giving the piece a ghostly charm. It's almost impossible to imagine Xiu Xiu conjuring this much patience, or Larsen this much deliberate melody. ...full text
TinymixtapesThere is a creative juxtaposition going on here with XXL; that being, of the two group’s own separate identities/mythologies, XXL forms an interesting mythology of its own. One is Jamie Stewart’s very strong “open book” sort of personality; unafraid of being without hiding under false stories while presenting songs of intensely personal events and emotions. The other is a group of people who work under more mysterious extensions, their mythology aided by themselves and the American counterparts with whom they work. It’s a mode of forward-being versus abstraction that makes XXL an intriguing entity.
However, I’m not sure if it’s one that necessarily pertains to any sort of understanding into Düde, in terms of what the album is or the general understanding of musical “collaborations.” One consideration would be that navigating either Xiu Xiu or Larsen’s path of self-presentation would help to understand which of the two collective personalities had come out stronger, song for song. However, this becomes a distraction in and of itself, as one might listen to Düde waiting for the moment to hear the distinct sound of Jamie Stewart’s vocals. With this listening approach, you (philosophical “you”) would have to wait until the final track “Vaire” to hear this distinction, causing you to miss out on the wonderfully atmospheric track “Krampus,” the urgently forward “Disco Chrome,” or the intensely “head-in-the-noise-until-the-Kraut-groove” song “Oi! Düde!” Listening inversely would cause the same sort of distraction, as in “where is Larsen in all of this?”...full text
EarbuddyXXL is a collaboration between Xiu Xiu and Larsen, and while I’m not familiar with the latter’s body of work, I think it’s safe to say that every Xiu Xiu album is simultaneously the best and worst album of all time, with the only distinction being one’s tastes. In a few respects, I suppose that this assessment to Düde, their latest album, as well, though I should note that the list of folks who will truly appreciate this album are far outnumbered by those who won’t get it. There’s minimalism, and then there’s barely occupying space at all, and Düde, for the most part, consists of the latter.
Late tracks “Krampus” and “Oi! Düde!” are nine minutes long and eighteen minutes long, respectively, effectively making them half of this album. The former consists of discordant chords and chimes played for its duration, while the latter has those elements but adds a groove halfway in. XXL attempt to add flourishes on top of this groove in lieu of varying it up, but it only serves to take away from a tune that rapidly loses what little appeal it was able to conjure. It must be noted that, at times during both tracks, I forgot that I actually had music on and actually started contemplating what I should listen to.
Again, though, I can understand that there might be an audience for electronic rock music that is barely there. The remaining songs on this album split the difference between the airy electro-drone of the two aforementioned songs and the sort of rock that was explored on Xiu Xiu’s Always, and sometimes the combination produces a weird wonder (“Disco Chrome”, “Apsorbtion”). As for me, I just wish that there was more music in this music....full text
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