Xiu Xiu, Yellow Swans | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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By now I should be completely exasperated by the emotional histrionics of XIU XIU front man Jamie Stewart; every time I read about the dysfunction Stewart displays in every song, I feel like telling him that conventional therapy might be a better option. In the bio for Xiu Xiu's latest, La Foret (5 Rue Christine), he claims that the song "Muppet Face" is about "a cat dying and the negative understanding of how fucked-up my sexual self is and how disgusted I have become with myself in regards to this." Why not write a cheery ditty about the war in Iraq instead? ("Saturn," where Stewart imagines President Bush being sodomized, comes close.) But his words go down a lot easier inside the riveting instrumental settings he crafts with a revolving crew of cohorts, and they've never sounded better than on La Foret. He's generally toned down the vocal (if not lyrical) psychodrama, going with a whispery-wobbly intonation that heightens the tension of the songs and also perfectly fits the chamberlike arrangements: in addition to the usual guitars, synths, and piano, Stewart adds vibes, mandolin, harmonium, tuba, and autoharp. Rises and falls in volume don't correspond to sing-out-loud choruses so much as the clenched-teeth, balled-fist peaks and valleys in the lyrics. --Peter Margasak

Calling the Oakland electronic duo YELLOW SWANS a noise act is accurate enough, but the term doesn't really do justice to the disorienting and spacious qualities of their Bring the Neon War Home (Narnack, 2004). Their dense music twists, turns, drops out, and surges back, sometimes with a Merzbow-ish ferocity and sometimes with a Niblockian persistence (though the pieces don't last as long). The liner notes and some of the song titles--"Police Eternity," "Neon War"--suggest a political slant, and the sound is indeed suited to watching a nation crumble into nastiness. But it's also perfect for long night drives with nothing but hallucinations to keep you company. --Monica Kendrick

Xiu Xiu headlines, Frog Eyes play second, and Yellow Swans open. Fri 9/9, 7 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, 773-975-0505 or 866-468-3401, $12. All ages.

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