Xiu Xiu/(r)

Sharp Dressed Man”/”Gimme All Your Lovin’” Split Single

Polyvinyl Records, 2017

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                    Xiu Xiu-(r) Split ZZ Top singles

Interesting times, complicated, negative, apocalyptic pathogens blowing in the wind, have, in past similar circumstances, spawned creativity and accelerated genius or has brought it out in places least expected.

In the current case, Xiu Xiu, at the urging of AV Club and their “interesting covers paired up with unlikely sources” series, teamed up with (r) for what would become a split 7”.

Of course, Xiu Xiu just had to do “Sharp Dressed Man”; a sort of nod to the ultra-stylishness and what was humorously dubbed “ZZ Bottom”, duo’s{r}did “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (“ZZ Bottom”, as in, the 2nd song of the release; Xiu Xiu’s contribution being “ZZ Top” and {r}’s being “ZZ Bottom” – get it??

So, not sure what to fully expect, but familiar with the tight, frightfully stylistic zeitgeist of Xiu Xiu, that made me more curious than ever to see what transpired. The result is a great cover. More than a mere “cover”, but something better described as an “interpretation”. In fact, both songs would be better off being labeled as “interpretations” rather than “covers”.  On “Sharp Dressed Man”, the term “Dressed to Kill” would not be inapt to describe the way Jamie Smith is describing his outfit and attitude.  Instead of the familiar beer-loosened smoothness of ZZ Top’s original, Xiu Xiu, just Jamie and Angela Seo, playing an “abbreviated” drum kit standing up but with a hardcore passion.  Stewart, on the other hand, looks pretty calm and cool in his tight black t-shirt reading “TEEN ANGELS” and jeans and slicked-back hair, the short sleeves of his shirt showing off his myriad tattoos up and down both arms.  The way he “sings” the three verses and choruses is so…well, it’s not at all like the more “soulful” ZZ Top style, but rather in a robotic, atonal rush.  Plus, when he sings each line all the music stops for a second, then goes on as normal.  It’s certainly a very interesting take on a song with which most people are familiar.  On the flip side, (r) which is a European outfit about which I can, unfortunately, find nothing on the internet.  I had a little something in the “press release” which came with my copy of this 7″ but, unfortunately, for me, anyway, and I suppose, now for you, unless you happen to be familiar with (r).  I would really like to know more and to hear more because I absolutely loved their very dark, oblique version of “Gimme All Your Lovin'”  – what a twist!  It’s slow, quiet and instead of any guitars or rhythmic things, etc. you get this almost-spoken-word run through of the verses in a slow, methodical manner.  So well done.

Oh and by the way, this 7″ split is part of AV CLUB’s series of 25 covers of older songs – back to the 80s up through the 90s, for the most part, done by current and/or new bands/artists. So, if you’d care to check out some of the others in the series, one place you can go is https://www.youtube.com and do a search for “AV CLUB UNDERGROUND”.

Anyway, what is so…well, cool about Xiu Xiu is the idea of fashion-show escapee, Jamie Stewart and his musical partner in crime, Angela Seo, who is the current only-other-member-still-in-the-band, although, I think they do have some help when on tour.

As far as the music goes, Jamie Stewart, in an interview, speaking about the recording of “Sharp Dressed Man”, was amazed with the complexities of Billy Gibbons’s (ZZ Top guitarist/vocalist) guitar arrangements. A quick bit of historical reference for the youngsters out there whose parents were probably in junior high (or even younger!) when Eliminator came out, in 1982. No doubt, Eliminator was/is ZZ Top’s best-selling album of their career, which started out in 1968, but, as those born early enough may recall, they made a number of great albums which spawned some memorable songs. But, I won’t get into the details here, as this isn’t a ZZ Top review! The reason I bring up Eliminator, though, is that, unlike their previous studio work, most, if not all, of Eliminator was recorded by Gibbons, alone, using some intricate studio art, lots of, no doubt, overdubbing, and even some drum machine drumming. I’m not sure how Dusty Hill and Frank Beard felt about this, but, they must’ve got over any bad blood that might have created, since they did tour together after this, they appeared in all the videos made for the various hit singles that came from Eliminator.    

As for (r), which is Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, who plays most instruments:  guitar, synth, bass, “treatments” and “programming”  He’s joined by Shayna Dunkleman who accompanies him on percussion:  drums, gong and vibes.  The version they do, of “Gimme All Your Lovin'” is unique.  It takes an older, widely known hit song from the early 80s and completely revamps it.  The song gets repackaged as a darker, more sensual, slowed down groove with an air of sexual mystique to it.  One can’t help but be enthralled by its smooth sexiness, its uninhibited freakiness.  The video for it which one can see on You Tube and which I will post at the end of this review, is done quite well.  Perfectly matching the song’s stylishness and the wry, subtle humor that sneaks in through the breathless, intense, oh-so-demure mysteriousness of it all.  A brilliant coming together of audio and visual presence.  I hope to hear and see more of (r) in the very near future.

Suffice it so say, both Xiu Xiu and (r) both do smokin’ versions of these songs. I know that it may seem a little odd at first – the pairing of these modern-day indie artistes par excellence with a couple of ZZ Top songs that are about 35 years old, but when you listen to them you get an appreciation for it all – the bands that have pulled it off, the songs they cover as well as a new (or renewed, as the case may be)​.

For those interested in checking out more information about the Xiu Xiu or (r), go to https://www.xiuxiu.org or https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/news/2070 to try to get more information on (r), information on whom is woefully lacking (as far as I can find) on the internet. Or, for purchasing, you can go to PVR’s regular website too: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com.


Check out the two videos below…(courtesy of You Tube- hey, thanks a lot!)

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