New CDs: Xiu Xiu, Chris Walla, moe.
Xiu Xiu - "Women as Lovers"
Xiu Xiu's demented post-punk/synth-pop overtures should feel like a tired shtick by this point, but the group keeps finding new ways to keep their tortured sound fresh. This time out, Jamie Stewart has peppered his songs with syphilitic horns and some of his most tuneful arrangements to date—although that might not be saying much. "Under Pressure" is a faithful homage to the Bowie/Queen collaboration, and there's a loveable dance-pop song trying to claw its way out of "No friend Oh!" Tender as the music gets at times, however, Stewart's lyrics are as caustic as ever: "Hold me mommy face down in your filth/ Why would you tell/ How many times that my father made you cream?" He's not going to run out of buttons to push anytime soon.
Chris Walla - "Field Manual"
The Death Cab for Cutie guitarist's first proper solo album, predictably, sounds an awful lot like a Death Cab for Cutie album. But Walla is an even meeker vocalist than Death Cab's Ben Gibbard, incapable of anchoring the softer songs or raising his voice for the meatier ones, and he's not nearly the songwriter Gibbard is either, so Field Manual is for Death Cab completists only. At least hooky, Matthew Sweet-ish power-poppers like "The Score" and "Geometry &c" ensure that those completists will walk away happy.
moe. - "Sticks and Stones"
Like most jam bands, moe. gets a bad rap in many critical circles, but the truth that most non-Relix readers haven't acknowledged is that, over the years, these guys have learned how to cut a decent album. Sticks and Stones continues to emphasize consciously tight songs over the noodly jams, and the results sound an awful lot like one of the Stones' country-leaning mid-'70s digressions—and although it isn't nearly as memorable as a classic Stones record, if nothing else it holds the attention at least as well as Wilco's last album.