A&E samples

.A Xiu Xiu band practice has to be the most awkward jam imaginable. How many drinks would it take before singer Jamie Stewart could sit down in front of the mic and whip out the lyric, “why would you tell me how many times that my father made you cream?” And how many times would this have to happen before his bandmates just keep on plucking their guitars and nodding along? Not that every song is as big of a pill-in-a-paper-cup therapy session as “Black Keyboard” is, but considering that the suicide of the singer’s father is all too recent, there’s little chance that this album is going to be anything but a cathartic fest of swimming through Oedipal conflicts and rehashing traumatic flashbulb memories.

The experience is like taking a trip to Ax-Man. The shelves are dirty, filled mostly with junk, but the intimacy of the junk pulls you in, and suddenly you’re walking away with an artifact of someone else’s life. Every instrument seems to crawl into the album somehow, occasionally being interpreted into a sound beyond their initial scope. Hawaiian ukuleles are drawn out until their plucking creates cinematic tension. Horns blow cartoonishly, like “Sesame Street” characters showing up on “24.” “No Friend Oh!” displays the band’s ability to be tuneful when they want, with cop-drama theme song hooks and the sweet voice of singer Caralee McElroy.

Like a puppy traumatized by life in the woods, this album needs careful attention before it can become loveable, but it will most definitely keep you listening.

Vampire Weekend is the kind of band that kids who used to love Sublime in 10th grade have probably moved on to. At that age, Sublime was morbidly fascinating, with their tales of weed-smoking mommies and lyrics like, “he needed money so he put her on the street.” They were a catchy, pseudo-reggae impression of what we all thought we’d be doing if we lived more exciting and challenging lives than we really did.

Not that Vampire Weekend is edgy, except maybe by being self-admittedly preppy rich kids who appropriate other cultures and know they’re doing it. But that’s the point. Edginess had it’s heyday, and now that nobody is around to care that you get tanked on a Thursday, you start to relate to people by admitting that you like, say, Greek poetry or reading the Farmer’s Almanac. Vampire Weekend takes yuppie bookworm life and gives it its perfect soundtrack. Composed of mathematically beautiful fiddles, 1950s milkshake slurpin’, jukebox-era vocal waves and sunny lyrics about life at a college more expensive than ours; you’re probably just at the right stage in life to appreciate it.

Hot Chip is a very amoeba-like band in the Lite Brite map of Electronicaland. Sometimes they have a “think all day, party all night” irony, but often they’re cautiously sincere, pulling out brittle-bones ballads that confess relatable sentiments like “you’re everything I never could keep.” To add to the blurry identity of the band, the singer has an androgynous voice, and confuses us even further on the track “Ready for the Floor” by singing “you’re my number one guhhhh.” Girl? Guy? Hot Chip definitely lets the listener choose their own adventure.

“Made in the Dark” has its sparkly parts, most specifically the track “Bendable Poseable,” a nitty-gritty track with jangly hooks to make any French courtesan want to shake it down on the Rue. But it seems that Hot Chip are starting to let their ambiguity and Frogger-like genre-hopping distract them from the task of keeping a compelling sound. Most tracks fall flat with overly minimalistic composition, as if they’re begging to be quickly remixed and rereleased on the blogosphere in more danceable formats.