Xiu Xiu & r & & r & Women As Lovers & r & & r & 4 STARS & r & & r & Many of the ambient, slowly progressive sounds of Xiu Xiu return, more or less, as should be expected from fans of this Kill Rock Stars outfit. An overall sense of calm again permeates the entirety, but only in snippets. The majority of the tracks on the album venture into the angular throes of screech and fantastic noise, feedback and collapse. Not quite the aesthetic ploy of the Magnetic Fields in their most recent release, the change will keep listeners on their toes ("Child at Arms" and "White Nerd" being prime examples).
Jamie Stewart, the lyricist and primary vocal presence, still whispers and breathes many of the tracks, but when he chooses to sing, the songs trade an atmospheric appeal for a visceral one. These schizophrenic characteristics may rub some listeners the wrong way, but the band's experimentation in this regard is well worth the alienation it risks.
-- CAREY MURPHY
Download: "In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall"
The Helio Sequence
Keep Your Eyes Ahead
For the most part, the 10 tracks on the latest release by this Seattle two-piece do little to make themselves stand out individually from the collection at large. The guitars bounce and the keyboards sing and the drums provide the central meeting ground for vocalist Brandon Summers to inflect and intone. But the consistently upbeat song construction makes the songs feel and sound cluttered, not vibrant and intense. The musicianship is competent, but not exciting, a serious miscalculation.
The overall safety of the songs stands out, as well. Just when the early disco-vibe of "The Captive Mind," for example, announces a promising change, the angular, shimmering guitars bring back the familiar. The acoustic "Shed Your Love" breaks free from these shackles, as does the magical closer "No Regrets." Both hint at elements from previous albums, but they stride forward in a way that nothing else here does.
-- CAREY MURPHY
Download: "No Regrets"