Women As Lovers (KRS)
His hair-pulling electro-dirges may not suggest it, but Jamie Stewart clearly knows how to get things done. With Women As Lovers, the dashing brainchild behind Xiu Xiu has managed to a) make his sixth full-length record in as many years, b) add a third member, Ches Smith, on drums, and c) produce an album that is, as a press kit puts it, "more approachable or communicative on a basic human level" than previous outings. That's saying a lot for experimental rock's most painstaking, pain-obsessed perfectionist, but Stewart likes it hard. Still, let's be clear about this claim to accessibility: Named after a heavy novella by Austrian Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek and with titles like "You Are Pregnant, You Are Dead" and "Guantanamo Canto," Women As Lovers is not exactly Norah Jones territory. It refuses to compromise the instrumental complexity (gamelan gongs, saxophones and a blitzkrieg of machines are busy at work), the razor-sharp vocal intensity and unrelentingly dark (and witty) lyricism that have become staples of Xiu Xiu's confessional oeuvre. But Stewart also offers some of his most delicate, straightforward work to date—on the tortured love song "I Do What I Want When I Want" and a cover with Swans' Michael Gira of Queen's "Under Pressure," he forgoes his mercurial tempos and yelps with the clarity of someone who has returned from hell. Amid a parade of misery, it may be Freddie Mercury, not Stewart's hero Ian Curtis, who gives the record its mantra: "Why can't we give love that one more chance?"
Published in Paper on February 1, 2008