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Taking their name from the 1998 Chinese film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, Xiu Xiu formed in San Jose, California with Cory McCullough, Yvonne Chen (publisher of the indie zine Zum), Lauren Andrews, and Jamie Stewart. Before forming Xiu Xiu, McCullough and Stewart played in the band Ten in the Swear Jar. Prior to the 2002 release of their first full-length album, Knife Play (released on vinyl through Absolutely Kosher and on disc through 5RC/Kill Rock Stars), the band made appearances on numerous compilations. Shortly after Knife Play's release, Springman released a 10" collaboration between Xiu Xiu and Deerhoof. Vocalist Stewart has earned comparisons to the Cure's Robert Smith, while the band itself draws from post-punk, synth pop, and avant-garde music as well as directors and authors including David Lynch, Todd Solondz, Elfriede Jelinek, V.S. Naipaul, and Yukio Mishima. In 2002, the band issued the Chapel of the Chimes EP. The following year, A Promise and the limited-edition, mostly acoustic F*g Patrol EP arrived, and early 2004 saw the release of one of their most accessible albums, Fabulous Muscles.
Xiu Xiu kept busy in 2005 with the full-length La Forêt and a split single with Devendra Banhart. The group's fifth album, The Air Force, which was produced by Greg Saunier, arrived in fall 2006; an EP of covers, Tu Mi Piaci, was also released that year. Issued in 2008, Women as Lovers was some of Xiu Xiu's catchiest and most abrasive work, and featured Michael Gira on a cover of "Under Pressure." Caralee McElroy, who had joined the group for The Air Force, left Xiu Xiu in 2009 and became a member of Cold Cave; she was replaced by Angela Seo, who worked with Stewart and Saunier on 2010's more overtly poppy and electronic Dear God, I Hate Myself. Two years later, the band commemorated its tenth anniversary with Always, which tackled war atrocities ("Gul Muldin"), the plight of Chinese female migrant workers ("Factory Girls"), and the right to choose ("I Luv Abortion"), and was dedicated to the band's devoted fans. Sal Mineo, a collaboration with Oxbow's Eugene S. Robinson, released its self-titled debut album in April 2013 on Important Records. While touring with Swans, Stewart was inspired to cover the songs of Nina Simone; Nina, which featured the talents of jazz and avant-garde players Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Mary Halvorson, and Andrea Parkins, as well as longtime collaborator Ches Smith, arrived late in 2013. Soon after, Angel Guts: Red Classroom — which took its name from a Japanese erotic film from the '70s and was touted as Xiu Xiu's darkest album to date — appeared in January 2014.