With limited experience in the history and overall progression of the band, I couldn’t help but end up somewhat caught off guard by Xiu Xiu. Leader Jamie Stewart has a voice that alternates between a frenetic rant a la Pere Ubu’s David Thomas and a mournful Bryan Ferry croon. Since his voice is often so hushed or buried in the mix, the lyrics are mostly inaudible, with only snippets of strange and macabre non-sequiturs popping out here and there. So the listener is left with atmosphere and vocal emotion, much in the way My Bloody Valentine presents these elements under heavy layers of effects and production elements.
This could easily grow tiresome under less novel circumstances, but this doesn’t prove to be a problem for Xiu Xiu, who provide an unpredictable ride through a very dark world. Small things pop out of the darkness, such as a sampled children’s choir on “Joey’s Song” or horn flares on “I Luv Abortion” that are welcome additions to the vaguely industrial beats. And then there are the detours – the piano on “The Oldness” and guitar on “Smear the Queen,” in which Stewart offers up his own strange and unique version of a ballad. Closer “Black Drum Machine,” meanwhile, is reminiscent of Dennis Wilson’s achingly emotional tonal poems on The Beach Boys’ Carl and the Passions – So Tough album.
It’s that very emotion that makes this album an interesting and engaging listen. Through all the shadows and all the murk, Stewart sounds genuinely anguished, and one can’t help but be assimilated into it (in the good way). This listener looks forward to hearing where Xiu Xiu take him next, as bleak and tormented as it will likely be.
Stream: Xiu Xiu – “Beauty Towne”