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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Xiu Xiu
Fabulous Muscles
5RC Records

Rating: 10/10 ?


October 1, 2004
Fabulous Muscles lives and dies by five words: "I Love the Valley, OH!" With one song -- one tumultuous, heaving, careening gasp of a song - Xiu Xiu songwriter Jamie Stewart confirms his every fan's deepest fear: that he genuinely means it. It's one thing to dive headfirst into Stewart's sordid imagery and fucked-beyond-reason storylines when they're accompanied by O'Rourke-ian hornet nests of post-industrial shrapnel or Hollisian strands of brittle, barren, and obtuse clean guitar notes… and it's entirely another to join him in rolling around in his own shit in the context of a no-bones-about-it pop song.

While Xiu Xiu's first two full-lengths were not all that inaccessible by any seasoned avant-garde listener's standards, they were still manic enough, challenging enough, and highly formalized enough to pass for art rock. Though Stewart insists that his songs tell true stories about his friends and family - A Promise and Knife Play's intriguing juxtaposition of dense, unnavigable swaths of white bluster against the clumsiest, most naked flashes of vulnerability imaginable, coupled with his utterly ridiculous Jandek-in-Rocky Horror Picture Show vocals - he placed his art squarely in that space equidistant from his and the listener's emotions about which Stephen Daedelus waxes philosophical in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The music was chilling and affecting, to be sure, but it was all a bit too po-mo to form a spiritual bond with.

All of that discomfort and artistic isolation went out the window, however when Stewart penned a song that longed to be hummed -- the sort of song that you could put on a mix tape for your significant other, one containing a story in which you could insert yourself, one that has a line of prose diary laments("It's a heart that you made/And I won't rest until I break it") to match its every non sequitur ("My behind is a beehive"). True, "I Love the Valley, OH!" isn't exactly the most likely candidate to make Xiu Xiu a Modest Mouse-sized mainstream smash, but it marks a bold step in a much more direct, spiritual direction, and in doing so, it opens the rest of Fabulous Muscles up to an entire world of frightening possibilities: The formless, scraping skree of "Support Our Troops"' midsection suddenly sounds much more cogent, allowing it to assume the role of a precise, surgical critique of US foreign policy rather than standing as an obnoxiously subversive, scattershot reaction; Stewart's haunting depiction of child abuse, rather than the sickening, foreboding death knoll of a horn part, becomes the focus of "Nieces Pieces," and the notion of watching a child "turn from good to bad" lingers longer than any imprint that the music itself makes; I begin to realize that it may be okay that I feel strangely touched when I hear Stewart mutter the album's last lyric, "pull my finger." "I Love the Valley, OH!" sparks entire chains of alternate readings and reinterpretations; it's the crystal through which the remainder of the record refracts.

The majority of the album still functions quite beautifully as an abstraction and as a series of experiments on and deviations from rock forms and conventions, but by introducing a suggestion of gleaming, untainted pop into the mix during the album's expository stage (track two, to be exact), Stewart lends Fabulous Muscles a flexibility and sense of ambiguity that eluded his earlier efforts, making this a record capable of speaking to a wide variety of listeners at a wide variety of maturity levels and with a wide variety of aesthetic preferences. As harrowing as Xiu Xiu's array of spooky guitar and synth effects are, the way in which these songs modify, readjust, and magnify one another lends them a richness and depth that all of the wonderfully horrible noise and the world can't achieve.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan

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