Listening to Xiu Xiu is like tasting a strange tropical fruit: Either you savor its exotic nature, or you throw up a little in your mouth. The band's sixth album, The Air Force, fuses anguished vocals with dominating melodies, but unfortunately misses the mark just as often as it hits it. The album runs the gamut of familiar Xiu Xiu tricks -- off-kilter chords, quivering vocals and unconventional production. One of the more commanding tracks on the album is "Hello from Eau Claire," sung by Caralee McElroy. Lyrically, it's the indie girl's answer to "Independent Woman," with a Xiu Xiu twist. The proud lady sings, "I can loose my own tie knot/I can button my own pants/I can buy my own cigarettes/I can pluck my own mustache." It's a provocative, seemingly innocent package with quaint yet somehow striking vocals. Almost a polar opposite is "Wig Master," which begins with uneasy strings that are quickly interrupted by spoken words, the first few choruses manipulated to make it sound as if vocalist Jamie Stewart is huffing helium. Yes, it's creative, but you can't help but think of it as a backdrop to a bad black-and-white art film. The most accessible Xiu Xiu release so far, The Air Force is a good starting point for new fans, but older ones will be only slightly amused. Xiu Xiu is nothing if not consistently unpredictable, and this CD proves it.
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Xiu Xiu appears Saturday, September 30, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington, 713-862-2513.