Having toured together in 2003, Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and Devendra Banhart are long overdue for a collaboration. Stewart, with his cathartic, mind-and-mood-bending synth-pop, and Banhart, with his semi-removed fantasy-land folk, have both developed their expressive voices far outside mainstream standards, although they’ve done it in two wildly different — but emotionally packed — styles. The two covers on this split-seven-inch — each musician selected a song from the other’s catalogue to reinterpret — work together because Banhart and Stewart stay somewhat distant from the songs, which forces the tracks to take on a new life from a distorted perspective.
“The Body Breaks” from Banhart’s Rejoicing in the Hands, the first of two albums he released in 2004, is given a typical, unsurprising Xiu Xiu treatment. Pull out the drum machine. Make it nearly danceable to the point where the decision whether or not to bust a move becomes uncomfortable. Sing with the near-death quiver of a voice Stewart and only Stewart can project. Drop in a few clings and clangs for good measure. End with a brief moment of way-too-loud industrial percussion.
Banhart’s is a tougher task. “Support Our Troops Oh!” from 2004’s Fabulous Muscles is one of the weirdest songs Stewart has written. The original track features abrupt metallic squeals that clamor through after Stewart delivers each segment of a two-part David Lynch-ian monologue about the idiocy of destruction and bloodlust. The song is an odd choice not only because of the spoken lyrical delivery but also because the music jumps through such random changes that it would be difficult for an artist such as Banhart, who typically sticks with one mood per song, to harness the vast emotional range.
But Banhart carries the track fairly well by transforming it into an acoustic doo-wop. Most of the terror that accompanies the original version vanishes unless you pay close attention to the lyrics. Only then, when the lyrical focus runs in complete contrast to the childish, innocent feel of the music, does Banhart’s version attain a creepiness level comparable to its predecessor’s. And the fact that he’s singing like Jandek isn’t making anyone feel warm and snuggly.