Girl with Basket of Fruit begins in total chaos, and pretty much stays there. After releasing a more pop-centric record, 2017′s Forget, Xiu Xiu have swung far back to their most experimental impulses, delivering their strangest record yet, and one that stacks up among their best. Since Forget, the band has gained two new members, Jordan Geiger, guitarist for various indie rock groups, and Thor Harris, drummer for Swans. Harris’ contributions feel most notable, as Girl digs into Xiu Xiu’s techno influences, a place the band has never gone before. Industrial rhythms reverberate throughout the songs here, at times approaching danceability. But mostly, they inherit the anxiety that have bubbled under the surface of past Xiu Xiu records, making what had previously been unspoken explicit.
On past Xiu Xiu records, Stewart has written songs clearly from other perspectives, of people desperate and hopeless and out of their minds. Girl is no different except the story here is completely lost. The feelings of desperation and hopelessness are still here, but they exist entirely in mood. When Stewart sings “light the candle, pull the handle” on “Scisssssssors,” I have no idea what he’s talking about. But mutating electronic soundscape behind him makes it clear that the sentiment is terrifying, or terrified.
Xiu Xiu have always reigned at inscrutability, which has endeared and alienated listeners in equal measure. There will always be a barrier of entry for Xiu Xiu. Jamie Stewart and company continue to make excessively dark music, full of quivers and screams. It’s easy to laugh when Stewart says “to-mah-to” in “It Comes Out as a Joke” or when he starts blubbering on “Amargi ve Moo.” But the willingness to go there is also what makes Xiu Xiu singular. While others shy away from being this earnestly melodramatic, Stewart is unapologetically Too Much. And Girl with Basket of Fruit is certainly full of this too-much-ness, but the overwhelming nature of the record is one of its most impressive qualities.
The touchstones for Girl are hard to pinpoint. There’s some Coil here, as well as some Nurse With Wound. Diamanda Galas’ phantom still looms over Stewart and Nico’s sense of dread is palpable throughout the album. But more than just a grab bag of experimental influences, Girl creates a world very much its own—one that’s anxious and unsettling to the core.
The final track on Girl is “Normal Love,” a shockingly straightforward piano ballad. After 35 minutes of insanity, it feels like coming home. Stewart’s divisive vocalizations are still here, but over soft chords and upright bass plucks, the traditional beauty is surprising. It’s a reminder that Xiu Xiu aren’t just baseless provocateurs. They want us to feel things—ugly things, sure—but beautiful things as well.