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Xiu Xiu - Chapel of the Chimes

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Artist: Xiu Xiu

Album: Chapel of the Chimes

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Oct. 7, 2002

Sleep in next Sunday


My first listen to Xiu Xiu's Chapel of the Chimes brought up that persistent plethora of questions that plagues every discriminating listener confronted with something totally new. What is art, and how far can you take it? One man's trash is another man's treasure, yes, but how trashy must it get before most men will admit that they can't find the art in it? In the case of Chapel of the Chimes, it is difficult to see just where the reason to listen is hiding. It may be that this is music that I simply don't understand, as fans of Xiu Xiu's brand of emotive noise may assert, so before I put it between black death metal and free jazz on the shelf of Music I May Not Understand But Wouldn't Choose To Listen To, I will take a moment to reflect on my reactions to it. I owe Xiu Xiu that much.

Let's put it this way: I'm an American. I like my beer cold, my TV loud, my homosexuals flaming, and my rock music musical. Xiu Xiu's mischievous, jarring ride is not completely nonmusical, but nowhere near cohesive enough to be considered an album, an EP, or anything of the sort. It may pass for a collection of found sounds funneled angrily and hastily through an opaque artistic vision, but no more and, at eighteen minutes, probably not much less. Despite its worthier moments, Chapel has no apparent songcraft and cannot help slipping in and out of focus, dancing between promising, listenable, and outright irritating. Song by song it is a less confusing maze to explore, but no amount of deconstruction can make me any more eager to listen to it.

"I Am The Center Of Your World" begins Chapel with thirty seconds or so of Jamie Stewart's oh-so-fragile tenor breathily mourning something not quite distinguishable. This gives way to discordant piano jabs, accompanied by the clanging of pots and pans, before retuning to the fragile mourning. It fades. "Jennifer Lopez (The Sweet Science Version)" hints at more promise, but ultimately fails to deliver on it as well. Opening with an abrasive cello and drum atmosphere soon joined by a moody organ, the song soon swells with keyboard distortion and more of Stewart's operatic musings. Then the screaming begins, the organs take over, and the song ends. Groaning horns and jingling bells back Stewart on "Ten-Thousand-Times-A-Minute," something like the sound of Robert Smith weeping softly from a window overlooking a traffic jam of barges; "King Earth, King Earth" again holds some potential in its surprisingly soothing last minute, but the preceding three and a half offer little. Not surprisingly, the most compelling track is the closing cover of Joy Division and New Order's "Ceremony." There is substance to be found in its post-punk structure and comparative abundance of melody, but Stewart is at his most dramatic Smith impersonation, warbling verses and screaming the choruses equally frantically. The frenzied instrumentation is pleasing in its own grating way, thrusting whining synth lines over tinny drums and other tastefully spare percussion, but by now it is too late for one listenable cover to excuse four inconsistent and indulgent tirades.

So there you have it. Five songs in what ends up being a mercifully brief eighteen minutes. If this is indeed what a chapel sounds like, a low-key agnosticism is beginning to sound like a good option.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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