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Xiu Xiu
Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks Tom Marsh , April 22nd, 2016 10:02

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art was onto something when it asked Xiu Xiu to perform a series of Twin Peaks soundtrack covers at a David Lynch exhibition in 2015. To say that Jamie Stewart's weird, sexy noise-troupe have something a bit Lynchian about them is a serious understatement; but perhaps it's also fair, if a bit of a mouthful, to say that they have an air of Angelo Badalamenti about them too. Frequent Lynch collaborator and Twin Peaks soundtrack composer Badalamenti, like Xiu Xiu, makes noir-tinged, discomfiting music that hovers at times on the edge of cheese. In short, a good choice for them to cover; which is nice, because now we have a whole album of just that.

A respect for the original material is clear throughout, and the emotional power of Badalamenti's tunes is identified and played up wonderfully. Opener 'Laura Palmer's Theme' keeps his beautiful piano part intact, subtly complimented by deep, insistent percussion and ambient noise. It rises through the unsettling background hum, rousing but also fragile, in danger of being swallowed up by the backing.

There's something really satisfying about hearing the vibraphone theme to 'Audrey's Dance' suddenly pop up over a scratchy, subterranean bedrock of electronic drums and synth squiggles that's typically Xiu Xiu. Enough of the original material is played straight to make this a pretty perfect marriage of styles, and when guitar squawls, skitter percussion and random beeps complicate the mix, it sounds jazzy but never like a cacophony, because those Badalamenti vibraphone and piano motifs guide us through.

So the band keep those juicy parts, the ones the fans will know, like the two-note piano part that kicks off 'Dance Of The Dream Man', and do their own thing from there. In 'Packard's Vision', the quizzical vibraphone theme is used as a launch pad, a sedately cool opener from which the tune is suddenly thrown, dropping into a grinding guitar pulse over which dreamy synths float. Eventually the whole thing turns industrial, becoming a thudding, monstrous machine, rattled cymbals sounding like steam being expelled.

'Dance Of The Dream Man', meanwhile, is stretched out, taken apart and then comes together with a crash in a final minute of rollicking sleaze. It's one of many blindsides, like 'Packard's Vision's sudden descent into Xiu Xiu territory, that take gleeful advantage of the fact that half the audience is probably whistling the tune, expecting to know what happens next.

Which isn't to say they mess with the originals for the sake of it, or that they're going at them with a proverbial hacksaw; which could've been the case, given the band's propensity to be contrary on record. Instead, the twists and turns are just good song-writing, the result of a keen understanding of dynamic changes.

Ironically, what is perhaps the archetypal Twin Peaks song, 'Falling', becomes the one that sounds most like classic Xiu Xiu. With its breathy vocals, Suicide synths and light, dripping percussion, it could fit anywhere in their back catalogue.

There are a few hiccups, though. Closer 'Josie's Past' proves divisive when band member Angela Seo starts reading items from Twin Peaks character Laura Palmer's diary. There's a jarring quality to her strangely enunciated, sing-song recital, as if she's reading this for the first time and isn't sure what's coming next. Whether this works or not is hard to say; it's certainly weird and creepy, but also kind of shambolic. And the problem is, at almost eight minutes long the time spent listening to this mad voice will surely be enough to convince many that they're not actually fans.

Stewart himself only sings on three tracks (discounting an insane minute-long rendition of 'Mairzy Doates' on 'Josie's Past'), and on the lovely 'Into The Night' he reins in the Scott Walker theatrics to give the song a calm, melodic centre. While it's probably the best of the bunch, it's a testament to the instrumentals that they manage to be as intense as the numbers employing vocals, without the use of what many would define as a cornerstone of Xiu Xiu's sound.

This all adds up to more than just a one-time diversion for anyone interested in what they might have done with those old tunes. To be honest, if I was David Lynch, putting the finishing touches on (or right in the middle of, no one seems to know) the forthcoming Twin Peaks season that's supposedly arriving in 2017, I'd be tempted to reach for the phone and get onto Xiu Xiu for some soundtracking duties. On the very small off chance that you're reading this, David – I'm happy to let everyone think it was your idea.

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