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XXL is an unholy alliance between the Italian experimental band Larsen and James Stewart's weirdo pop band Xiu Xiu. The two ensembles met at a solo show by Swans alumna Jarboe in Seattle, and collaborated sporadically as their various tour schedules led them to intersect at odd times in various places in Europe. They finally joined forces in a studio in Torino in May of 2005, creating this abidingly bizarre but strangely appealing collection of gently noisy instrumentals and quavering, halting "pop" songs. The results take a bit of getting used to, but they're mostly worth the effort. "Minne Mouseistic" is an almost pointillistically abstract instrumental that sounds more coherent the more you listen to it, while the nearly two-minute-long "Ciao Ciautistico" sounds like an afterthought on the same general theme, this time with a cheap electronic rhythm; "Distorted Duck" is sad but really quite lovely. By "Prince Charming," the tremulous angst of Stewart's vocal delivery has begun to wear on the nerves somewhat, but the instrumental "Birthday Song," with its hallucinatory layers of shimmery guitar, minimalist beats, and keyboards that sound like a child's toy, creates a strange sort of magic that manages to transcend the weirdness of its component parts. Recommended overall.

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