Review: XIU XIU-“Always”

By Lane Oliver

The lines “if you have a stitch in your wrist say ‘hi’” are one of the few gloomy quips that Xiu Xiu decides to open their new album, Always, with. Frontman Jamie Stewart’s emotional vocals in combination with dark, uncomfortable lyrics and (for the most part) surprisingly upbeat instrumentation are an interesting formula that Xiu Xiu has conceived. One does not necessarily need doom and gloom soundscapes to make a song dark and Xiu Xiu really let you know that on Always.

The record begins with the abrasive yet upbeat synth pop esque “Hi”, which trots along with pulsating bass and an array of bright, catchy synths. It’s extremely catchy beat will stick to your brain like peanut butter. The luscious displays of danceable electronic pop continues in songs like “Beauty Towne”, “Gul Mudin”, and “Honey Suckle”; a slow building, saccharine sweet track where Stewart and Angela Seo exchange lyrical lines in a deadpan style delivery in the verses. These bass ridden, synth pop inspired tracks feature a plethora quirky synths and seemingly randomly placed instrumentation and orchestration. All of these sonically buoyant tracks are accompanied by Stewart’s emotional, breathy and gloomy lyrics that flutter above and below these tracks. His unique and fragile singing style really adds another dimension to the overall sound of Xiu Xiu. Xiu Xiu goes outside of the synth pop area on tracks like “Joey’s Song” and “Smear the Queen”. Both tracks showcase an almost shoegaze inspired sound that produce waves of glorious sound upon the listener. But attached to these shoegaze/new wave walls of sonic bliss are oddly timed synths that come out of nowhere and make each track extremely trippy. Xiu Xiu ventures into aggressive territory on “I Luv Abortion”, which features noisy, robotic synths that stab into the listener while Jamie sarcastically and maniacally yells about abortion. The varietal bliss continues in the sullen piano driven “The Oldness”. Jamie Stewart’s ghostly voice echoes over melancholic piano riffs and haunting atmosphere in a track that could bring a tear to the coldest human being. “Chimney’s Afire” is a dark, folksy passage that morphs between new wave gloom and brittle acoustic depression. In a nutshell it is obvious that Always has enough variety to keep a person with an extreme case of ADD interested for the entire thirty-seven minutes.

What impresses me the most about this record are the uncomfortably dark subjects the lyrics touch upon. Xiu Xiu put together songs about self hatred and trying to find meaning in such a dim existence (“Hi”). The lyrics explore other depressing themes such as consistent failure (“Beauty Towne”) and the potential relief in suicide (“Born to Suffer”). Xiu Xiu also adds some social commentary in their lyrics. “I Luv Abortion” is a sarcastic jab at the far right wing stance on abortion. “Factory Girl” eludes to the harsh treatment of migratory Chinese women workers in factories. “Gul Mudin” refers to the fifteen year old Afghan boy who was killed by rogue US army personnel for sport in 2010. Xiu Xiu gets even darker on the final track, “Black Drum Machine”, which references incest. All of this shocking lyrical imagery combined with the rich textures, instrumentation and brilliant melodies create an album full of wondrous contradictions.

Overall I felt the album was very well written and produced. I personally wish Xiu Xiu had explored more areas outside of the electro pop style that dominates the majority of this album, just for variety’s sake. But for what it is, Always is a phenomenal little record. This album feeds my affinity for weird music and that is something that worthy of a good rating. Check out this record and tell me what you think!

Rating: 9/10

Label: Polyvinyl

Release Date: February 28th, 2012

Favorite Tracks: “Hi”, “I Luv Abortion”, “Chimney’s Afire”, “Factory Girl”, “Smear the Queen” and “Black Drum Machine”.

For fans of: Cold Cave, Zola Jesus, Prurient, Salem, The Cure, Ten in the Swear Jar and Joy Division.

 

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