After the expansive darkness of La Forêt, Xiu Xiu return with The Air Force, a set of songs that manages to be just as challenging as La Forêt, but sparer and somehow more eclectic-sounding at the same time. This time around, Jamie Stewart and company's explorations of vulnerability and ugliness-beauty are even more vivid; as usual, Stewart's breathtakingly concise, poetic lyrics are front and center. He captures longing and self-loathing on "Buzz Saw," singing "Your acne is like pearl/I swear mine is like brimstone." On the closing track, "Wig Master," he whispers, "Loneliness isn't being alone/It's when someone loves you/And you don't have it in you to love them back," a statement as devastating as it is true. Even for a Xiu Xiu album, The Air Force has a remarkable mix of contrasting sounds and textures: "Bishop, CA" builds dense cathedrals of noise, while the icy, bustling electronics on "Vulture Piano" suggest delicate mechanical wildlife. Meanwhile, the koto, violin, and piano on "Pineapple vs. the Watermelon," "Glue Stick," and "The Fox and the Rabbit" give these tracks the intimacy of chamber music. On the whole, The Air Force leans more toward the avant-garde side of Xiu Xiu's sound, but its poppier moments are no less challenging in their own way. Chief among them is "Hello from Eau Claire," which is written and sung by Stewart's cousin, Caralee McElroy. A simultaneous declaration of love and wish for independence, the song surrounds her with chilly, strangely innocent-sounding electronics as she sings "I know it's stupid to dream that you might think of me as a man...I'm not embarrassed to sing the words 'love' and your name," sounding more vulnerable and desperate as the track unfolds. Not only is it one of The Air Force's best songs, it's one of the best songs in Xiu Xiu's catalog. "Boy Soprano" and "Save Me Save Me" are also standouts, cut from similar cloth as Fabulous Muscles' "I Luv the Valley Oh!" The goal of Xiu Xiu's confessional, confrontational music is to shake their listeners out of complacency and make them think and feel; once again, they accomplish this mission beautifully.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares