The Air Force goes beyond music that you play to clear out a party; it’s the album you play to let your invitees know that you actually hate them. It’s that unpleasant and disarming. It’s also almost undoubtedly band members’ intended effect.
From Knife Play through last year’s obtuse mini-opus La Foret, San Jose’s Xiu Xiu indulges in the chaotic and tuneless, somehow digging out art along the way. This is never achieved quite as aggressively as is attempted on The Air Force, sure to be a deeply polarizing piece of work.
The quaver-y bleat of singer/lead songwriter Jamie Stewart‘s every word portends desperate measures, each song the last say of a different unstable soul. Stewart is matched with the detached, pretty delivery of Caralee McElroy on a handful of songs, including the uncharacteristically melodic “Hello From Eau Claire.”
Greg Saunier of the similarly minded labelmates Deerhoof has twirled the knobs and detuned the instruments for this endeavor, and his production work brings The Air Force its twisted gravitas. Musically, the album is a mélange of music boxes, grandfather clocks, and player pianos stored in the attic of a haunted house.
Whether this is profound or just a total drag depends upon your entry point to the music. To get back to my original thought, The Air Force can work as a private listen. Much like our need to keep our deepest, darkest thoughts to ourselves, sharing this listen with others would be an act of cold, wildly uncomfortable complicity that I doubt would outlast the first three songs. Only listened to under a prism of harsh self-reflection does the bizarre color and poetry of Xiu Xiu take its hold — quite firmly, in fact. Either grab the headphones and turn off the lights or leave well enough alone.