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Xiu Xiu has never been a band to tackle light topics or turn out pretty pop songs. (If that's what you're hoping for, turn back now.) Jamie Stewart and band have staked out a corner of the indie rock pantheon for their own brand of nakedly emotional and sonically challenging music. Woman as Lovers (named after a novel by controversial feminist Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek), is both grim and beautiful. Themes of death, sexual yearning, war, abuse (of many stripes) are but a few of the open wounds we're forced to tend to, while violas and cellos, trumpets and glockenspiels, conch shells and congas tangle in the background. The cover here of Bowie's "Under Pressure" is perfectly...fun (Michael Gira of the Swans guests), the utter delicacy of "Master of the Bump" is heartbreaking and lovely ("If you say my dancing is effeminate/I will never dance again"), and "Guantanamo Canto" will make any anti-war activist proud. But as true as all that is, we must point out the sheer lyrical bleakness and despair of a number of the tracks - notably, "Black Keyboard," "Child at Arms," and "In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall." But even in those difficult moments, Xiu Xiu's music is miles above much (much) indie fodder, and the bleating, bleeding guitars, the unique vocal arrangement and instrumentation, the wall of sound the listener encounters back to back with moments of frailty and tenderness, make the whole affair worth seeking out. Woman as Lovers comes as a double LP in a gatefold jacket.