Xiu Xiu
Knife Play


4.9
classic

Review

by Aaron W. STAFF
February 12th, 2018 | 35 replies


Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A list of things that you have convinced yourself that you want to have happen, but you know that are never going to happen.

Jamie Stewart's rage on a song like "Don Diasco" is the only possible way a Xiu Xiu record could commence. It's the only conceivable way the band could begin their run as one of the most divisive groups of the burgeoning post-punk revival of the aughts, and with 2002's Knife Play, Stewart and company engage in a raging war against themselves. A cacophonous littering of glitched electronics and a smattering of percussion dominates songs like "Diasco," "Luber," and "I Broke Up (SJ);" but what makes an album like Knife Play so compelling is the lengths its creators are willing to go for their art – nothing out of the ordinary, really – but what is horrifying about this is the inevitability that these songs are much more powerful than you'd believe upon first glance. See, Xiu Xiu have a way of making fun of themselves and their preposterous ways of translating their messages and their meanings to an audience that could never understand them without proper coercing. How else could Jamie Stewart get away with a song like "Hives Hives" and its chorus "A-I-D-S H-I-V / I cannot wait to die / Can't you tell"" without the emotionally gripping delivery that mistakenly morphs from the off-key warblings of Robert Smith and the silky smooth croon of Bryan Ferry into the ghastly moan that Jamie Stewart is now know best for"

Xiu Xiu evolved from the 2000 dissolution of Stewart's former band Ten in the Swear Jar; with the band's founding immediately after Swear Jar's split, Stewart took to writing music that bordered on self-parody as much as it did sincerity and tragedy, and Knife Play is the finest example of what Stewart could do with the multitude of subjects he had stashed away, no matter how absurd they were. Write a song about child abuse: Stewart did so with "Luber;" a song about demoralization and another about the complete self-destruction of one's mind: Stewart wrote "Suha" and "I Broke Up (SJ)" with these themes and without prettying up the details as to spare those who were subjected to them. Knife Play is catastrophic; it goes into this realm of personal tragedy I can never relate to nor could possibly comprehend, yet Stewart lies his own experiences bare for someone like me to see, ugliness and all.

The mood of Knife Play shifts everywhere, gradually transitioning from manic tantrums and pierced screaming into simmering anger that is simultaneous in its depression and hatred. "Over Over," most importantly, marks such a change by becoming more subdued following a fearsome string introduction and horrific drum machines. "Anne Dong" on the other hand takes an example from Stewart's time as a preschool teacher and his experience with a student who didn't quite like him, and uses it in a story about a neglectful suburban father who leads a delusional life with a child he doesn't love. It's songs like these that captures the depressive streak of Stewart at its most gruesome.

But what makes the morbid stories of Knife Play all the more gripping are their unsettling framing; it's what would become the hallmark of a many Xiu Xiu recordings – if not all of them – and the perfect setting for Stewart's emotionally stirring writing. Nobody else could possibly write something like "Poe Poe" and its themes of exploitation (from the viewpoints of a child and an older man) without making a few liberal sacrifices to the lyric, but Stewart ultimately comes to a decision that something so wrong must be seen and heard to be believed rather than leaving it up to interpretation. On the other end of the spectrum, something as personal and distraught as "Homonculus" puts Stewart in a light that his other works cannot; he needs to write songs like this to not lose control of himself (as nonsensical as this may sound).

Yet, when Knife Play reaches its conclusion, the desolation of a piano ballad like "Tonite and Today" is the emotional release, the much-needed catharsis, the baptism that frees Stewart from his torment. In contrast to the other pieces on the album, "Tonite and Today" is the most off-putting track, thanks in no part to the absence of Stewart's seething lyrics in favor of a song of resigned dejection; it's in a song such as this that Xiu Xiu would establish their purpose no matter how controversial or outlandish they would be.




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user ratings (103)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

Pretend you don't know how you stand it

Cause you know you are nobody




I Broke Up (SJ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw5IzcsLWRE

Suha: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooJJ684dnUA



Also, Shayna Dunkelman left Xiu Xiu last month, in case some haven't found out yet

Digging: Animal Collective - Tangerine Reef

bgillesp
February 11th 2018


5636 Comments


When are they gonna get these to show up as staff on front page? Good work though my friend.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

They used to be in the staff section, but were relegated to the usual section because otherwise it'd push the new material out faster. If you're talking about the "STAFF" thing, that's been a thing...for a bit, I guess.

bgillesp
February 11th 2018


5636 Comments


It just seemed to me like yours were the only ones showing up in the user section. Could've been coincidence that I only ever clicked yours though

Tyler.
February 11th 2018


15080 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

idk why i skipped this album lol

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2018


6667 Comments


@bgillesp - if staff review material older than a year, it goes to the user section. Talons covered something older as well and it was the same thing

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

I believe the switch happened in 2015 because I remember when Necrotica (SoccerRiot) got promoted and reviewed a Rush album, it was in the Staff section.

BMDrummer
February 11th 2018


14218 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

oh shit this didn't have a review

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

it did before iirc



got deleted alongside the A Promise review

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2018


55975 Comments


"I believe the switch happened in 2015 because I remember when Necrotica (SoccerRiot) got promoted and reviewed a Rush album, it was in the Staff section."

If I had a fuckin time machine

Digging: Dad Thighs - Easy Listening

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

It was on the facebook too, that I definitely remember

Demon of the Fall
February 12th 2018


7310 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review, it needed one. I don't enjoy this as much as Air Force overall but the highs are undoubtedly impressive.

Digging: Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

BlackwaterPork
February 12th 2018


4173 Comments


4.9, so fucking close to a 5

Demon of the Fall
February 12th 2018


7310 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Someone got their GCSE in maths.

BlackwaterPork
February 12th 2018


4173 Comments


I know my maths my friend

BlackwaterPork
February 12th 2018


4173 Comments


Tbh I did A level physics and dropped it as soon as possible cos the maths side of it (most of it) wrecked my life

RogueNine
February 12th 2018


3622 Comments


Willie would like a word with you.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

hmmm

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2018


17669 Comments

Album Rating: 4.9 | Sound Off

"4.9, so fucking close to a 5"



whoa

Winesburgohio
Contributing Reviewer
February 12th 2018


2265 Comments


if i'm in a very specific emotional space this and A Promise are the only things that make sense but i don't like being in that place so i'm always wary of this band. so immiserating but so good

Digging: Taku Unami, Moe Kamura & Tetuzi Akiyama - Konata Kanata



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