Xiu Xiu: I Luv the Valley (OH!)
amie Stewart (Xiu Xiu’s main songwriting force) once recalled, “My dad…told me that the only regret he ever had in music was not going over the top enough...And sometimes it's successful, and people can get touched by it, and sometimes people are like, ‘Is it a joke?’ But the times that it's successful never happen unless you go fucking balls-out on something and just rip yourself apart.”
Given the uniquely affecting nature of Xiu Xiu’s best songs, I’m willing to believe this. Some hold that the band has yet to succeed at a high enough rate to make its approach worthwhile, while others contend that Jamie Stewart is 1) artificial, 2) self-indulgent, and 3) a sick fuck, but these analyses, accurate or not, will not be considered here. Instead, we will discuss one of the most devastating moments in pop music, the inimitably visceral “I Luv the Valley (OH!),” which stands as Xiu Xiu’s masterpiece.
“I Luv the Valley” explores the human condition at its most overwhelmingly and agonizingly pathetic, frighteningly revealing the anguish of which we are all capable. In his most stunning (read: fucking terrifying) vocal performance, Jamie Stewart confronts his parents’ deaths, details intimations of suicide, and most powerfully, declares his love for depression and misery, his only living parents. Meanwhile, the music jars and trembles from its initial smoothness as the song progresses into increasingly fearful emotional heights.
The song commences as a surprisingly gorgeous arrangement; the bass recalls Peter Hook’s work with Joy Division/New Order, while the guitars ring with beautiful clarity, and an unidentifiable source of percussion crashes at a steady beat. Over this assembly come the most ambiguous lyrics of the song:
It’s a pill and you’ve got to take it
It’s a pill that you’ve got to take
It’s a pill and you’ve got to take it
I won’t rest until you take it
It’s a heart that you made
It’s a heart and the both of you made it
It’s a heart that you made
And I won’t rest until I break it
The first half of the verse most likely expresses Stewart’s inner urge to kill himself; part of him will not be satisfied until he takes a pill to end his life. Another allusion to suicide appears later in the song, as Stewart sings, “That’s a razor and you make a threat…and I won’t rest because I’ve heard it all before.” In this lyric, the second part of him answers, rejecting the notion of suicide because he’s thought of it many times before and he knows he won’t go through with it.
The second half of the above verse can be interpreted as Stewart conversing with his parents, the two people that made his heart. If viewed in this manner, these lyrics provide the song’s first evidence of Stewart embracing the depression that has raised him, as he declares that he won’t rest until he breaks his own heart. He does this more obviously in the song’s title and chorus - “I luv the valley” or “Je t’aime le valley” (in very poor French that translates to “I love you the valley”) - wherein “valley” acts as a symbol for Stewart’s emotional lows.
Most potent about this complex appreciation of misery is Stewart’s insistence that it has persisted as constantly and authoritatively as a parent in the lyric “I am an orphan de le valley.” Rather than grow up with parents, like most children, Stewart has been brought up by his own agony.
Furthermore, he holds on to the hope that his depression will grow severe enough that it will blind him to what has happened and the valley will totally replace his true parents. He announces, “it’s the l’histroie de le family [he means “histoire,” or “story”]…and I won’t rest until I forget about it,” indicating that he wishes that he could forget about his parents’ deaths. When he claims that he won’t rest until he does, he is alluding to either killing himself or suffering blinding insanity (either route will, he hopes, make him forget his grievances).
One might wonder why Stewart uses and misuses French throughout “I Luv the Valley”. To answer the former question, one only needs to consider the regular claim that the most direct expression of a sentiment is not the most desirable one in a piece of art, because it is too often cliché, and sounds weak as a result. This, of course, explains the use of a different language, which is a very simple cloaking device. Stewart’s choice to use the language incorrectly is more interesting and multi-faceted, though.
Firstly, the poor grammar is a method of demonstrating Stewart’s pathetic state; the grammar is reinforcement of the lyrics, which more directly exhibit Stewart as pitiful. Secondly, it is a means for his non-French-speaking audience to grasp what he is saying despite their not understanding the language. The phrase “Je t’aime” is commonly recognizable as “I love you,” whereas “J’aime” leaves listeners wondering. Finally, that he does not employ proper grammar (or, if he does not know French, that he does not ask someone what proper grammar would be) ultimately makes the result more visceral because of its recklessness, even if, in truth, there was much thought behind Stewart’s choices.
This is all very important, but there’s still one integral part of the song, which aptly finds a place in the title, to examine. Stewart doesn’t just luv the valley, IL T’AIME LE VALLEY OOOHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Simply put, “I Luv the Valley” is one of the most chilling displays of the human voice ever recorded. Stewart sputters and struggles to breathe for three minutes, culminating in the most emotional utterance pop music has seen, a scream from the unfathomable depths of hell, an “OH!” that petrifies every fraction of one’s body.
The thirty seconds that surround this howl are incomparably unnerving. The drums – are those even drums? – crash with the fierce steadiness of a loosed army of elephants. The spurts of noise become more frequent and intense, obliterating the guitar, barely forgiving the bass, the drums, and Stewart’s cries for life, death, pain, and more pain. These cries are more and more strained as Stewart desperately searches for air, especially after the crippling shriek, which he somehow manages to live through.
The resolution, then, is that he lives through his pain, whether or not this is a “good” thing. After he belts out a final “LALALALALALALALALA,” the guitars break into a revelatory riff that concludes the song. We are left totally devastated; the impact is nothing short of thrashing. There is no true conclusion; Stewart lives, but what now? Does he continue to suffer? Has he blinded himself to the tragedy he has seen? Will he only live to consider taking his life over and over again?
“I Luv the Valley” is ultimately one of the most bruised, agonizing, and thoroughly destructive songs ever recorded, not only because it assaults listeners so powerfully, but also because there is no clear resolution, no happy ending. In this sense, Xiu Xiu has achieved what we can only assume it aimed to achieve (given the source of the band’s name); it has demonstrated, like the Chinese film Xiu Xiu he ta de nan ren, that life does not always have a clear resolution or a happy ending.
Furthermore, Stewart has more provocatively expressed his most devastating emotions and experiences in this one song than in nearly all of his other works. In essence, Xiu Xiu has achieved its version of perfection with “I Luv the Valley” in that it has balanced the masterful with the over-the-top. If the song were more careless, it would warrant some of the band’s common criticism, but if it were any less effusive, it would sacrifice its remarkable bravery and be that much less powerful. As it is, “I Luv the Valley” perfects the formula Xiu Xiu has developed over the past few years, and stands as one of the most transcendent, awe-inspiring moments in pop music.
By: Kareem Estefan
Published on: 2004-03-18