Have you ever noticed that when people who aren’t into rock music do their impression of rock music they always yell, “Yeeaahhh!” and when they’re imitating punk rock they always roar, “Raaaarrrgh!”? Next time you have the misfortune of overhearing some class-clown type do his facile punk rocker schtick, listen closely. They’ll yell “Raaaarrrgh! Kill your mother! Kill your father! Raaaarrrgh!”
It’s so stupid, but at the same time there’s a grain of truth in outbursts like this. Punk rock isn’t literally about killing your family—duh—but in a very broad sense it is about thinking for yourself, questioning and often rejecting values and attitudes that you at least suspect have been indoctrinated into you from a very young age. That’s the party line, anyway, and even if you don’t rebel violently against your family, there’s still plenty of cause to be impatient with them.
And sad. Something that we often forget about punk rock as an ethos is that it can be very, very sad—always feeling like everything is a losing battle and nothing means anything at all once you strip away all the lofty sentiment that keeps people believing in things like family and love. Seattle’s Xiu Xiu are just bottomlessly sad. Past press releases for the band (named after Xiu Xiu, the “sent-down girl” from the Chinese film of the same name) have mentioned frustration with and alienation from family as important aspects of the band’s bleak emotional make-up. And the fact that horrible things happen to everybody all the time. And that everything is ruined forever. As one Xiu Xiu member explained in an interview with the Kill Rock Stars label’s Slim Moon, “Things are just not all right.”
“Life is hard and can be awful. I know it is obvious. Sometimes it is easier to accept that than feel overwhelmed and beaten up when things do not turn out all right. When I have felt the most ruined, the records that made those days possible to endure were the records that were about those days or lifetimes.”
It’s not a bright side, exactly, but the other side of Xiu Xiu’s spiny, spiky and frequently beautiful music is that doing something—anything—to wring some beauty out of all this mess is preferable to doing nothing at all. Don’t confuse it with redemption, though.
“Finding some kind of redemption in the middle of BLAH! feels phony and less human than staring at it and standing along with it. Some things that happen can be really horrible, but also can be made into something pretty.