Xiu Xiu is a project that has always expanded and contracted.
Led by Jamie Stewart, the group has invited a plethora of voices into the fold, allowing their output to constantly shift and vary.
Co-conspirator Angela Seo helps steer the ship in 2021, and the two helm excellent new album 'OH NO'.
A record that leans on their love of collaboration, the record makes room for a host of guests, featuring everyone from Liz Harris and Chelsea Wolfe through to Sharon Van Etten.
Clash caught up with Xiu Xu's Jamie Stewart to unpick his love of the art of collaboration...
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Carla Thomas & Otis Redding - 'Tramp'
This is my number one favourite duets of all time. It is a bizarre proto battle rap song wherein Carla accuses Otis of eating raccoons and tells him he needs a haircut and he responds by talking about how hot is in the sack so it doesn't matter. The music is played by one of the best soul bands in history, the Stax records house band, and sung by two of the best, most serious, most focused soul singers in history yet this is departure of, dare I say it... goofy fun?
Because it is so clearly loose and off the cuff and you can hear Otis at times moving too far from the mic, the ridiculous (in the best possible way) lyrics are a delight.
As well that this was recorded in 1967 at the height of British blues-rock conceptual pretence makes it that much more far out. Each Christmas my sister and I get drunk and make her kids listen to us sing this song to the darkening sky. They are teenagers now and HATE it! That we have over time we have begun including unflattering details about them in the song justifies their feelings. We will never stop. The lyrics to this song may be what I utter on my deathbed.
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Mick Harvey & Anita Lane - 'Bonnie & Clyde'
This was originally a Serge Gainsbourg creep fest in a long line of creep fests he composed.
Thee Mick Harvey and thee Anita Lane's version, with lyrics loosely translated into English from the French by Harvey and Alain Chamberlain, introduced a generation of teen goths (myself included) to Gainsbourg on Harvey's record 'Intoxicated Man', the first of four Gainsbourghian explorations he recorded.
Although a fairly faithful version, and this is no mean feat with any cover, Harvey and Lane's version is better than the original.
It is better because the history of what a bacchanalian, trash humping, horrible dad, horrible daddy, wondrous daddy Gainsbourg was is woven through their take. They KNOW who/what Serge was and therefore can fully transmit the glamourisation of violent criminals by a chain smoking incestuous paedophile to us as listeners adding so much more shuddering depth to it.
While the original is just a character song, this cover is a commentary on and embrace of the horror and irresistibility of being even badder when you are already pretty bad. To beat this point into the ground I would have picked 'Lemon Incest', a duet by Serge and his dead-eyed 13 year old daughter Charlotte, but it not a very good song.
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James & Bobby Purify - 'I'm Your Puppet'
There is a radio station in Los Angeles called K-EARTH 101 (KRTH) that has been a station since 1941 but has been an oldies station since 1971. As like any native angelino, I grew up listening to this station. Disturbingly for the overly rapid passage of time, the format is now 70-90s as oldies but when I was kid, of course, it was all 50s and 60s gold.
Thankfully on Sunday’s ancient chola, chicanx, low-rider hero Art Laboe, who interestingly is Armenian, still plays all the classics. This show mostly serves as means for people with loved ones who are incarcerated to send out dedications in the form of songs and short little, usually somewhat crazed and therefore beautiful love notes.
Nary a Sunday goes by without someone sending 'I’m Your Puppet' across the airwaves and through the steel bars of despair. The song is so wistful and pretty and tender and a little troubling perhaps but that it is about clinging to submission by choice tips this trouble to the trouble of pink angels. The singing is incredible and the playing, by the original gang at Muscle Shoals FAME studio is flawless.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell did a respectable send up of this jam three years after James and Bobby Purify's 1966 release complete with the glockenspiel from the original but not the dearness, nor the eternal sway. For two singers that are as badass as Mr Gaye and Ms Terrell that is saying something for thee misters purify. Also once Art Laboe said love on the air, "the show must go on, i don't know why..."
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Sam Smith & Normani - 'Dancing With A Stranger'
Sam Smith is tough to beat for compact, brilliantly crafted, catchy AF and, well, kind of cute (I mean that as a compliment) pop songs. This little gem with Normani is easy to accidentally have on repeat for six times while you are driving and not be aware of how many times you have heard it because it goes by so quickly and as far as candy goes, is so good.
Not surprisingly as it was written by six people, three of them Norwegian i.e. part of a hit factory. There is almost nothing going on in this song, it is so spare that it probably took six people to keep erasing each other’s parts until they all agreed it was on the edge of a perfect void. Both singer's voices seem uncertain about what the results of the upcoming night’s poor choices will be and neither seem to care.
There is some freedom still in the tightness of the production and writing. This is the kind of song that I wish I could figure out how to make only insofar as being able to be fearlessly straight ahead but not boring.
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Nick Cave & PJ Harvey - 'Henry Lee'
Nick Cave and PJ Harvery are two of my all-time favorite singers, songwriters and rock and roll heroines. That said, if i were to make a list of my 25 favourite songs by either artist, and it would be easy to come up with at least 25 favourites, probably this song wouldn't be on it.
It is however one of my favourite duets because when I watch the video for the song it is really easy to imagine them fucking.
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'OH NO' is out now.
Photo Credit: Julia Brokaw
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