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Xiu Xiu dodges mainstream success in favor of DIY catharsis.

Not surprisingly, critics often call Xiu Xiu's music "challenging," applying the label more to Stewart's hyper-expressive vocals than to their backdrop -- which, though occasionally shrouded in electronic dissonance and metal-on-metal clatter, follows linear melodic patterns and often approaches fragile beauty. Several tracks, propelled by programmed percussion and rumbling basslines, settle into new-wave grooves, leading to the incongruous spectacle of fans dancing during Xiu Xiu's morbid recitals. There's even sexual energy at times, though Stewart warns "it's really unhealthy."

X marks the spot: Jamie Stewart (from left) and 
Caralee McElroy are Xiu Xiu.
X marks the spot: Jamie Stewart (from left) and Caralee McElroy are Xiu Xiu.

For him, "challenging" doesn't mean inscrutable atonal noise, unorthodox instrumentation or provocative lyrics. "Any music that someone plays from the heart, totally openly, becomes challenging music, even if it's just guitar and vocals," Stewart says. "And any reaction to that music is great, as long as it's what the person is really feeling."

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