XXL (Xiu Xiu Larsen) - Ciautastico! - CD
Ciautistico! is the debut album from XXL (Xiu Xiu Larsen), a collaboration between the Italian experimental cult band Larsen and James Stewart's mutated pop project Xiu Xiu. Both groups consider their joint, creative clash as a new band in itself, more than just an occasional collaboration as it has been already proved by the successful sold out theater performances in Italy by XXL.
Edited out of long and intense jam sessions, the sound of Ciautistico! is totally schizophrenic, swinging between orchestrated pop songs, almost-techno beats and minimalistic droning tracks, but framed into a common melancholic mood and fronted by the inimitable James Stewart.
Ciautistico! is also the first Larsen's album out on Important after the critical and commercial success of their previous Play and before their forthcoming EP and full length (with special appearances and contributions by Deathprod, Origami, Lustmord, Jarboe, Julia Kent) slated for release later this year.
From James Stewart:
There is a tiny adjunct club in Seattle called the Green Room. A friend called and said Jarboe was playing and asked if I wanted to open and do a solo show. Being self destructive, I am of course, a huge Swans fan so it was on. When I got there luck descended and unbeknownst to me, Larsen, was playing on the bill as well. I had heard they were great but had not had the chance to hear them play. They immediately introduced themselves and, as daunting and intense as they look, they were incredibly friendly and warm.
So I played and cut my hand and bleed everywhere and felt very Goth. Then Larsen played and melted my brain and heart and I felt like a human. We traded records and promised to stay in touch, which bands say and never do all the time. Beautifully and amazingly we both held up our promises and met again in Torino a year later during the first European Xiu Xiu tour. The show memorably sucked that night but seeing the men of Larsen afterwards made it bearable. They are like a salve, a dark, dark, dark hot salve.
Fortunately, they came again to visit us and see us play in Genova, a much better, louder, more distorted, meaner show and as we got drunk we talked about doing a collaboration together. It became clear that they were the real deal and we were to be forever on each other’s sides.
Yet, another year later and an invitation to play in Vienna made the plane trip and timing possible and we set off to make the collaboration. We had never done anything like this and had no idea what to expect aside from that we knew that Larsen worked hard in the studio. But, so do we so at least laziness would not interfere. We talked a lot about coordinating details over email but not music. We made a few shows in the Balkans and Eastern Europe on our way to reinvestigate Torino.
After we were rescued by Fabrizio from the churning traffic orgy he said to Caralee and myself, “Ummm…. We haven’t really written anything for this project. Have you?”
“NO!!!!!!!!!! We haven’t either!!!!!!!!! Everything will be OK!!!!!!!!”
This was an immediate comfort to both bands I think as a philosophy for this record was already established; there wasn’t one yet. We walked into the huge and gray Larsen studio and were at home.
For 11 days there was a ritual. At night write a song. At 2:00 pm the next day record and sketch the mix. Go to dinner and drink too much vino. Go back and write another song. Somehow this system worked and in this fortnight we made a whole record from dust. We tried all ideas and mistakes and tried to be patient. No one was mean, no one was an ego maniac. Everyone helped each other.
Because of this the idea of CIAUTISTICO! was molded and then destroyed as a kali looking, fuck oriented cable network. Please combine the ubiquitous CIAO and increasingly ubiquitous AUTISTICO! It is a way to be and a way to avoid being. It is a militant and violent, avant, sexual peace and labor movement made to make sounds out of an inflatable giraffe and toy, but fully functional, bow and arrow. If you touch CIAUTISM you will die and it will feel like the worst of the best. If you mutter a CIAUTISTIC verse from the molded scroll of computer monk’s verses you will make the loss of your father’s need for speed be reborn as hot little doom finger panties. WHERE? WHEN? NOW! NEVER! WHICH! YES! LATER! There is this new model of superior non-uber failure in the record. It is the smell of... dot dot dot.
We also decided that at a show we were playing together at a theatre owned by priests, we would learn some of these songs and play them interspersed between the Larsen set and the Xiu Xiu set.
We borrowed an orange Fiat in the shape of a robot duck and dragged all of our equipment to the stage and during an endless sound check we all encouraged each other that our lack of preparedness would not surface. We were all very nervous. Larsen, for playing to the hometown crowd. Xiu Xiu for having played so badly the last time were in this town. XXL for having never played before, and having written and learned the whole show over the prior week. It would either be perfect or putrid. CIAUTISTIC.
With the wave of a Hawaiian shirt and a comically misunderstood cue on my part it became a miracle and the effort and doubt and need for good feeling on this night came true. We all felt as if we had survived our gamble and given the best we had and it seemed like the people there got something from it.
1. Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw
2. Minne Mouseistic
3. Ciao Ciautistico
4. (Pokey I'm Your) Gnocchi
5. Distorted Duck
6. Lipstick Fair
7. Prince Charming
8. Birthday Song
"Xiu Xiu never stop. If they're not recording or releasing an album, they're touring. This spring, while making their way through Europe, Xiu Xiu made good on a promise to collaborate with the experimental Italian art/noise band Larsen. Over the course of two weeks at Larsen's studio in Turin, the group followed a ritual of writing, recording, and mixing (and a little sacramental vino at night)." ~ The Stranger
"Whoa, you won't be mistaking this cd for a super size t-shirt! No, this is a collaboration between Xiu Xiu and Larsen! An intriguing combination? That's putting it mildly. Think, the aural equivalent of a darkening storm cloud billowing forth with flashes of fork lightning, thunderous crashes and rumbles. An unstable atmosphere of eccentricity and melodrama. Although the overall mood is as heavy and disorienting as that of either groups' own releases, as the first track begins, you initially get the impression that there won't be as much of the emphasis on the overwrought vocals of Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart that we've come to expect from Xiu Xiu's own songs. The glitchily dynamic sixth song "Lipstick Fair" offers a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, but then the next song, a strange cover of Adam Ant's "Prince Charming" pulls you back into the woe. No, he's not (and you're not) gonna get off so easy. Stewart seems to be singing from beneath a fortress of blankets afraid to see what's outside. The song swells to unveil another deeper male vocal, then it's almost as though the rest of the band members burst in, tearing the covers away from Stewart, exploding into a group chant/shriek atop cycles of clatterous percussion and plucked strings. Definitely one of the cd's high points. As in the song above, a few passages take on more traditional rock song formations, but they're soon scattered apart by seemingly random acts from crudely motor skilled limbs, only to settle into a more recognizably hypnotic, almost mystical and haunting tone. Here's hoping these two groups get together more often!" ~ Aquarius Records
"A collaboration that's hard to envision and one hundred times more successful then your imagination. Larsen, all faceless, composed and neat versus Xiu Xiu, all raw emotion, bare and naked to the world. Together they opt for quiet beauty, buzzing with heart and sounding almost fearful, with a cautious energy that somehow balances the anonymous, layered beauty with mistake-haunted, clenched fist emotion." ~ Jackpot Records
"The holy union of Italian arch-experimentalists Larsen and James Stewart's mutated-pop project Xiu Xiu, XXL's debut album is being touted as a genuine "joint creative clash" and actual factual band, as opposed to a brief flirtation or sporadic collaborative venture. For those who are familiar with Stewart's recent Acuarela album, whose bruisingly intimate portraits led some to speculate it was a scathing satire on the self-help atrocities of singer-songwriters (it wasn't), 'Ciaustistico' could come as something of a shock. Carved from a mass of tape churned out during Beowulf-style improv sessions, the album opens with the annoyingly titled 'Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw'; wherein Stewart's Cohen/Morrissey-laminated vocals are framed by a miasma of dignified strings and broiling post-rock. Following this spangled pop introduction, 'Ciautistico' then gets more experimental through the frigid electronica and pertinacious strings of 'Minne Mouselstic', creating a sound that shares much with the minimalist compositions of Susumu Yokota or even (possibly, kind of) Asa Chang and Junray. Elsewhere, '(Pokey I'm Your) Gnocchi' is a Puccini splashed epic so overblown it works perfectly, 'Prince Charming' is a histrionic and intimidating cover of the Adam Ant hit, whilst 'Birthday Song' is a blast of Isan style bubblytronica." ~ Boomkat
"This spring, Xiu Xiu made good on a promise to collaborate with the experimental Italian art/noise band Larsen. The resulting recording—Ciautistico!—seems an impossibly natural handshake between the two bands. Glockenspiel, synth, accordion, and theremin all remind you that Xiu Xiu are present, but their usual glaring, forward sound is burnished by a gentle Mediterranean pace. Impulsive electronic beats and xylophone flourishes pepper a cauldron of instrumental drones, dissonant chord clusters, and on occasion, impassioned hollers. On 'Minnie Mouseistic,' Caralee McElroy recites a broken monologue in phonetic Italian over treacherous guitar tones and the dry heaves of a harmonium. But there are truly gorgeous, expansive tracks, too; 'Distorted Duck' plays like a five-minute instrumental serpent uncoiling in the late afternoon sun." ~ PortlandMercury
"It's difficult to proceed into fall without feeding regret for not having lived it up more during the summer. XXL provide a way out, though. Put on Ciautistico!, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your happy place (a villa on Lake Como, perhaps). You'll be warmed and ready to face everyone the next day." ~ Nick Scholl
Following Xiu Xiu over the years, one learns to embrace change pretty quickly. After releasing their debut album Knife Play—one of the most innovative and starkly challenging albums I've heard in my life—the band probably had few worries about alienating their fans by continuing to experiment and change their sound. My first reaction to listening to ¡Ciautistico! is that it's much gentler than I expected, without any of the noisiness of Xiu Xiu's "Brian the Vampire" or "Blacks." While it might seem like an odd comparison, this albums reminds me of the Black Dice/ Wolf Eyes split; combined, the two bands balance each other out, allowing each outfit to express themselves but tempering their more extreme musical tendencies. Failure in this type of arrangement would result in a mediocre, middle of the road album, but XXL avoids this pitfall and creates an engaging album that shows off a number of each band's best qualities.
The first track eases you into the album, as "Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw" slowly unfurls with warming tones, gentle chimes, and drums that slowly build—it's a perfect track to wake-up to in the morning. But then looking at the lyrics one realizes the inherent sadness behind the track gives a new dimension to this song. Listening in this mindset, the song comes off very different, with more of a yearning feel, a longing of regret. This makes for interesting listening on the instrumental tracks. Several of them sound similar to "Paw (x7)"'s soothing optimism, but each could also be put in a much bleaker, sadder context, depending on the listener's mood. I enjoy this flexibility in one's reading of the album, as the music fits for any number of moods or feelings.
One thing I expected to hear on this album would be several building, wall-of-sound tracks, with each band using their diverse instruments to create a rising surge of music that eventually crashes and collapses under its own weight. This only really occurs once on the album, however, in the song "Prince Charming." It's also one of the few tracks that also features Jamie's vocals, occurring this time as a strained cry of "Don't you ever, don't you ever stop being dandy and showing me you're handsome."
The final two tracks wrap up the album's finale in similar ways: each strikes high, clear notes, with light distortion in high-range frequencies. The second-to-last track is much more electronic, with some heavier beats meshing with interesting rhythmic textures. As a whole, this album shows that Larsen and Xiu Xiu work well together, and they've mentioned several times that this is not a one-off band, but a new outfit that will continue to record and grow. It will be interesting to see how XXL builds off ¡Ciautistico!'s base and where their experimentation takes them from here.