In early 2002, Northern California's Xiu Xiu released one of the most ridiculously challenging and morosely honest avant-garde pieces of indie electronic pop to date, borrowing elements of British post-punk, noisy electronic techno, and, most interestingly, the Gamelan Orchestra. Knife Play was hailed by some and cast aside by even more for its histrionics and nonsensical wordplay -- many considered picking it up simply for its influences, which are methodically deconstructed and reworked into a darkly cohesive and chaotic wall of beats, rhythm, static, and sound. Still, most people had a hard time getting past singer Jamie Stewart's constant vocal freak-outs.
Xiu Xiu has followed up Knife Play with A Promise, an equally challenging and beautiful piece of work. The band now favors a more subtle approach and sparse instrumentation. But the extremely honest lyrics and abstract arrangements still root out more-sensitive ears -- this is not for everyone. That this album may be easily passed over in stores or destroyed after contact with audio devices is truly a shame, further proof that the record-buying public wants only prepackaged, watered-down electronic pop. If you have a wild streak, an open ear, or a voyeuristic fixation on the darker parts of the human psyche, this might be the album you never thought you needed to hear.
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