Women as Lovers
(Kill Rock Stars)
I once attended an erotic poetry reading in a semi -abandoned warehouse with a girl that was soon to be my girlfriend, just as soon as the messy detail of the current girlfriend was handled. The then current girlfriend broke up with me a week later at a basketball game to which I was late in arriving to because the new girl and I were off on a bike ride. The transition was frankly not much of a shock to anyone, as are the romantic machinations of the hormonal youth, but they feel like the roof is collapsing in on you with each touch, each baited breath. I remember the erotic poetry at the reading as being completely not erotic at all, but one balding grad student had the wisdom to drag out a copy of Henry Miller's Sexus and delivered this:
It was fast clean work after that - no tears, no love business, no promise me this and that. Put me on the fucking block and fuck! that's what she was asking for. I went at it with cold blooded-fury.
That very sentence was the removal of the keystone on that relationship. No dull ties to girlfriends and the like, no passion reined in by weak unmeant and unkept promises. The nakedness of that line was as embarrassing as being actually naked, but when you are naked, it's more honest than when you're not.
Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu has a similar honest nudity to his songs as Henry Miller, but instead of imbedding them in a rush of words , they are ensconced in a beguiling mixture of electro-pop sheen and Chinese opera klunk. Women as Lovers comes on the heels of some of his more accessible efforts, and while it's not the exposed nerve plugged into Pro Tools that was A Promise, it's a wild, sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, skid across the fucking block.
The hit, if there is to be one, is the whip-smart cover of Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure" with Stewart singing the Freddie Mercury part with his choked whisper and Angels of Light/Swans frontman Michael Gira doing the Bowie. It is a genius cover, really, with a free-ish jazz sax-sounding racket disrputing the classic rock sheen enough only to send you plummeting right back into it. If nothing else, this should at least temporarily wrest this great tune away from Vanilla Ice.
The rest of the record is divided between hushed melodrama, nervous ejaculatory electro-pop, and what can best be described as post-folk - sometimes careening from one to the other within the same song. On the exquisitely titled "in Lust You Can Hear The Axe Fall" he comes on screaming through a roar of cymbals only to slam to a halt, barely whispering through the hum of digital static. "F.T.W" is almost an ardently strummed acoustic ballad, except for the music box twinkles and the cyborg freak-out in the middle.
His erratic songs are hard to follow sometimes, but they are more satisfying than the ones that follow a more discernable pattern, like "No Friend Oh!" and the opener "I Do What I Want When I want" though it must be said that the latter sounds like one of the best songs Coil never saved to tape before Jhonn Balance's unfortunate passing. What,] I'm after is when Stewart lets his dog off the leash, and doesn't bury his song in noises and production (though he gets more astute with his noise making with each record) "Master of the Bump (Kurt Stumbaugh, I Can Feel The Soil Falling Over My Head)" is what I'm after. He channels each sexual shudder through his guitar or maybe mandolin, whispering, always whispering his love into the echoes of a lonely room. Compared to that, the next track "You are Pregnant, You Are Dead" is practically a Busby Berkeley number, which it kind of is. But still, even when his songs sound as controlled as a rococo carousel, they still feel uncomfortably close, like they are breathing down your neck.
Stewart has upped the ante on his closeness on the accompanying website womenaslovers.com where he has offered to write haikus for the first 254 people who send in a picture of themselves holding the album, and offers and instrumental track, asking people to sing something over it so that it may be posted on the website. If the interactive website is the new album cover, I am all for it.
Ultimately, why I love Xiu Xiu is that they take the same old sexual abandon, the same fears, the same twisted emotions that launch a thousand idiotic pop songs every day, and he does something brave and naked with them, like how he bellows White nerd! What have you learned? You've let us down on "White Nerd." His songs are never easy, rarely hummable things. I doubt many people sit around trying to suss them out on tear-stained Yamaha student guitars. It's what they are instead - weird, quivering, shivering slabs of messy human love, going at it with cold-blooded fury.
Image from "Star hoof deer trek" from the video magazine page on womenaslovers.com
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com