Jose Perez III
September 28, 2006
Welcome to Autumn! It’s Andy Gesner and the hard rockin’ staff at HIP Video Promo coming at you with another groundbreaking video. Fans of indie music have come to think of Xiu Xiu as a frequently confrontational and impressively theoretical act, and for good reason: Jamie Stewart’s experimental excursions in pop songwriting are quirky, subversive, and literate. But Xiu Xiu is never so cerebral that the playful side of the group isn’t immediately apparent. Stewart and his collaborator Caralee McElroy have great senses of humor, and even their most sophisticated stories are invariably barbed with dark wit.
And sometimes they lead with their whimsical side. “Boy Soprano”, the lead single from their upcoming release The Air Force, bleeds anxiety and concern, and Stewart’s performance is typically impassioned, but the playfulness behind the passion is evident. Jose Perez’s eye-popping video for “Boy Soprano” seizes on that undercurrent and teases it to the fore. It’s a convincing homage to vintage Nintendo games like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers, and it nods to older titles still, like Activision’s Pitfall. Stewart and McElroy are cast as the avatars and plunged into a 16-bit gameworld, and they’re shown running across the platforms like Bay Area hipster versions of Mario and Luigi.
It’s not hard to see why “Boy Soprano” made Perez (who happens to be a real life video game designer by day) and Xiu Xiu think of classic video games. Stewart appreciates minimalism, vintage synthesizers, occasional primitivism, electronic beeps and whirs, atmospherics, and stealth hooks – everything that made for an indelible soundtrack to an early home-entertainment favorite. The folk-rock and skewed-pop underpinnings of Xiu Xiu songs lend themselves to machine mutation, and at times, it’s hard to tell where the synthesizers end and McElroy’s woodwinds and glockenspiel begin. This is part of the point – on The Air Force, the “natural” and the “synthetic” are shuffled together until they blur and lose signification. Not many indie bands are original enough to have drafted their own sonic blueprint. Everything created by Xiu Xiu sounds like Xiu Xiu, and nothing else.
Perhaps it is the group’s inimitability that has created such demand for their experiments. Since the formation of the group in 2002, Stewart has been one of the busiest men in indie rock: not only has Xiu Xiu released seven enthusiastically-received discs in five years, but the singer and songwriter has also penned a movie script and recorded a revelatory EP of covers. Stewart projects that there will be no fewer than four videos for songs from The Air Force, and the group’s nationwide tour starts this month.
There aren’t any typical Xiu Xiu tracks, so it would be misleading to call “Boy Soprano” quintessential. Yet it shares several elements with other Stewart songs; elements that have become something of a thematic signature for the group: sexual ambiguity, peril, impermanence, risky behavior. “Boy Soprano” appears to be a warning to a younger friend dancing on the precipice of disaster. What better metaphor for the ephemeral, and for sudden danger, than the precarious world of a vintage video game?
Stewart and McElroy begin on a typical 16-bit start screen, complete with psychedelic-looking easter eggs. They run together across platform surfaces and collect rewards, leap pits, and blast off into outer space where they do battle, Defender-style, with enemy ships. Perez’s video-game backdrops are letter-perfect; anybody who has logged time in front of a console will immediately recognize these tropes, and can confirm that the feel of the “Boy Soprano” clip is authentic. At the close of the video, the inevitable happens, and Stewart “dies”, crashing to the easter egg screen as the Game Over message flashes. But it’s his body there, laying broken; unlike in a video game, his “death” has the appearance of permanence.
Here at HIP, we are pleased to be working together with Maggie Vail, Slim Moon, and all of the good people at Kill Rock Stars and sister label 5RC to bring you this unusual, groundbreaking video. Xiu Xiu will be touring the country from now till November, so be sure to catch up with them when they come to your market. Rest assured an interview with Xiu Xiu will definitely pique your viewers interest! We’ve also got plenty of copies of The Air Force on hand so you can set up on-air giveaways. If you need more info, call Andy Gesner at 732-613-1779 or email us at [email protected]/a>.