* * * 1/2
Xiu Xiu have built a long and fruitful career off of loading up everything that is sick and twisted about the human psyche into a cannon and firing it at the sane and unspoiled parts of listeners’ brains. Thus, one would expect the average Xiu Xiu fan to be thoroughly desensitized, a theory supported by 2010’s below-average Dear God, I Hate Myself. On their latest album, Always, the band’s solution is almost stupidly simple--to explore even more emotions to project onto the listener. Much of Always finds the San Jose band juxtaposing often literally danceable synth-pop beats with bandleader Jamie Stewart’s unbelievably bleak lyrics. “Joey’s Song” and “Honeysuckle” are so easy to dance to it’s difficult and not even entirely advisable to heed the lyrics. (Hell, the song called “Born to Suffer” actually has a drop.) Yet fans of Xiu Xiu’s gnarlier material need not worry--there’s still traces of the avant-noise hell of earlier albums, most notably the stomach-churning “I Luv Abortion,” which finds Stewart singing things like “I look between my thighs and see death, it’s rad” in a truly disgusting retching voice between even more horrifying screams and wails. True, Always is only intermittently effective at capturing Stewart’s bleak and traumatized vision of the world. But the best songs on Always evoke something completely different, whether or not they’re trying.
THE ST. VALENTINEZ
When The Saints EP
* * *
The thing you’ll probably hear most about the St. Valentinez is that their technical prowess easily outshines that of most musicians twice their age. For the most part, this is a very straightforward but enjoyable tribute to classic funk and soul, one without much to distinguish it from a lot of similar albums by similar bands save the band’s age. But that’s not to say there’s nothing that makes it stand out--“Love Song” is a fine soul song with a haunting, smoky bass solo from Alex Szotak and a killer vocal from Will Randolph. And while their higher-energy songs aren’t quite as funky as they would like to be, one shouldn’t use this as cause to write off the St. Valentinez--they’re one of the best live bands in the Bay Area right now, capable of ripping the roof of any venue graced by their funk.