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Xiu Xiu vs. Grouper - Creepshow

From Pitchfork

Creepshow, a wisp of a collaboration between Portland phaser Liz Harris (aka Grouper) and Xiu Xiu situates itself at the core of the former's chilly drone and the windiest outskirts of the latter's saddest ballads. The EP's five tracks share similar pacing and a narrowly defined sound; subtly defined gradations emerge across the 20-some minute tapestry, but the participants contentedly explore a limited palette. (Befitting its brevity, the album-- part of Slender Means Society and States Rights Records' Pregnancy Series-- was originally pressed in a limited edition of 700 copies.)

The effort's understated approach and overall sense of faceless anonymity creates something unique to the participants, but the results are definitely more Grouper than Xiu Xiu. Most obviously, Jamie Stewart's vocal angst and bruised lyrics never emerge from their darkest-corner hiding place. Instead, he finds ways to emote via autoharp, percussion, and the refracted/treated vocal samples of Xiu Xiu parter Caralee McElroy. Harris sings, plays pianos, adds guitar, and on her MySpace page she writes, "We both had immense terror of terror films when we were children and was in lathe of these feelings that we explored the subjects of the record." Then it's by design that Creepshow, composed through a back-and-forth correspondence, builds an alternate soundtrack-- not one for a surround-sound cinematic experience, but an internal score charting pulses.

That said, the title ostensibly references an actual film: Creepshow, Stephen King and George Romero's kitschy blend of screams and Crypt Keeper guffaws. There was a franchise series and bad HBO run, but the one I remember, rather hazily, from my own childhood included rafting teenagers inhaled by a blob and a bloodied hitchhiker muttering a snappy catchphrase ("thanks for the ride, lady") to the woman who smashed into him. You laugh through the goose bumps.

This Creepshow's muted-- even gentle. "Waiting for the Flies" musters Fursaxa wind-tunnel spook with a tender melancholia that romantically bobs in the breeze. "Growing Into Veins"'s slight morse code percussion, piano, and drifting female vocals are both ghostly and plaintively hopeful. Traversing a noisier realm, "In the City" pivots with a slide whistle, radiant feedback crumble, and someone male (or octave-controlled female) singing underwater, recalling vintage 1990s Bugskull and their hushed, psychedelic PDX tape manipulation. On "Sea", female vocals gurgle over kinetic steel drum pots'n'pans that make a chiming Xela-style clatter-- the voices are lower than the surrounding drum ring, but nothing's ever oppressive or pointed. It soothes. Likewise, a swooshing comfort zone introduces "In Dreams"-- then, harmonium or accordion or harmonica (or whatever) strains and bubbles as higher tones ice skate along the inside of a Labradford-embossed wine glass. It possesses its own scissoring heartbeat.

The outing's an intensely concentrated set-- a finely tuned wraith that passes through the room for a second and then roams elsewhere. Often barely there, or caught between a few worlds, it has a tendency to disappear mid-flight: Pauses before/after most tracks can be pregnant, empty, or nervy squeezeboxes. Moving toward a climax (real or anti, depending on the listener's disposition), the largest gap drops unexpectedly at the end of the record as an unnamed 23:48 of nothing, a blank track mirroring the earlier sounds with total silence. It's like a well-paced horror film: You keep waiting for something to jump out-- tape hiss? creaking floorboard? Stewart shouting "boo"?-- and most of your shivers are the result of that nervous anticipation.

-Brandon Stosuy, January 08, 2007

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States Rights Records
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(503) 969 0455