In early 2002, Northern California's Xiu Xiu released one of the most ridiculously challenging and morosely honest pieces of avant-garde indie electronic pop to date, borrowing elements of British post-punk, noisy electronic techno, and -- most intriguingly -- 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, which sounded like Suicide's Alan Vega getting molested by Ian Curtis.
Xiu Xiu has followed up Knife Play with A Promise, an equally challenging and beautiful piece of work. Once again borrowing from the aforementioned influences (even going so far as titling a song "Ian Curtis Wishlist"), the band now favors a more subtle approach and sparse instrumentation. The extremely honest lyrics and abstract arrangements still root out more sensitive ears: This is not for everyone. But if you have a wild streak, an open ear, or a voyeuristic fixation on the darker parts of the human psyche, Xiu Xiu might be the band you never thought you needed to hear.