Xiu Xiu's Fabulous Muscles is the first great album of 2004 -- a very disappointing year in the wake of seemingly endless torrent of great singles and albums that spurted out of every crevice in 2003. Blame it on primary season. And let me be very John Kerry and add a caveat: Most people probably won't like this record unless they like the idea of a Monsters of Mope tour featuring Robert Smith, Morrissey, the undead Ian Curtis and the undead Elliot Smith all singing along simultaneously to Matmos beats. Such is the intensity and yowl of Xiu Xiu mastermind Jamie Stewart, a self-proclaimed bisexual who transforms the merely melodramatic into a kind of vocal auto-da-f. His every syllable is a choirboy's whimper as he warbles through repressed-jock-love-affair-gone-wrong lines like: "Honey boy, place my ashes in a vase/ beneath your workout bench" (from "Fabulous Muscles"). Or how about: "Your true self has become weak and alone and annoying/ and a true ridiculous dumb ass" ("Clowne Towne"). It's Stewart's total commitment to his morbid candor that makes him the logical heir to the throne of all those exasperated souls he wears so tenderly on his sleeve.
The Von Bondies
Pawn Shoppe Heart
(A one-act play with a cast of two dudes)
Dude 1: Dude, did you hear the new Von Bondies album, dude?
Dude 2: Yeah, dude, aren't they, like, from Detroit?
Dude 1: Totally dude. Detroit, "rock city."
Dude 2: Dude, Iggy Pop and The White Stripes are from there too.
Dude 1: I heard Jack White totally beat that Von Bondies' dude's face in.
Dude 2: Maybe cuz that guy's music is so boring he just totally had to beat his face in?
Dude 1: I don't think they're that bad, dude.
Dude 2: Yeah, me neither.
Dude 1: Yeah, I guess they "rock."
Dude 2: Dude, Iggy Pop totally rolled around in broken glass on stage!
Dude 1: So awesome, dude.
I very badly wanted to like this album. Deerhoof has heretofore been the kind of playfully experimental noise-pop band that let the hooks uplift the discord in their explosions of minor multicultural rage. But here, on Milk Man, the band just sounds bored and Satomi Matsuzaki's vocals sound rote. The melodic cacophony has become pat. Everything drones. Nothing's on the line. Something happened between Apple O', their last album, and this lull that pervades Milk Man.
-- Noel Black