If the creepy painting on the cover of Xiu Xiu's The Air Force is supposed to depict singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart as Jesus, it's ironic at best: Unlike the traditional singer-songwriter who plays a guitar and makes sense of the chaos of our lives by making sense of his/her own Stewart does not take away our pain. He doesn't rein in chaos, but expresses it, hemming together a cosmic array of unrelated sounds and painting his own life in loosely associated strokes of pain, irony and dysphoria. Xiu Xiu's sixth album is brittler and less electronic than 2005's La Fort, but its symphony of piano, bells, synth, battering live drums and electronic beats coalesces into pop music as often as not. "Save Me Save Me" is as catchy as classic Cure, and "Buzz Saw," despite being a loose collage of cymbals and unsolicited bass blasts, constructs something like an R&B groove. The lyrics, weaving Ian Curtis anguish with Yoko Ono delirium, dwell closer to adult relationships than the childhood trauma that preoccupied much of Stewart's previous work. And while the listener might relate to Stewart's angst, his comparisons of acne to pearls, lovers to crashed planes and daytime to "a blue dot of sickly light" provide no balm of empathy.
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