Musicians aren't as daring as they used to be. The charts have been rife with recycled elements for years, with only a few unique voices breaking through with bursts of true sonic creativity. Jamie Stewart, the soul of Xiu Xiu, is one of these. Perhaps in the hands of lesser artists, the piercing screech effects, whiney yet operatic vocal styles, and sporadic arrangements would be harsh on the ears, but with Stewart, these abrasive qualities become pure magic. On this foundation, Stewart builds his experimental rock house.
Since 2002, Xiu Xiu’s 13 albums—replete with mandolins, gongs, harmoniums, and drum programming in place of conventional bass guitar and drums—have explored the perimeters of art rock. Contributors and band members have come and gone in the past 15 years, but there seems to be some permanence to the current configuration, with keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Angela Seo and percussionist Shayna Dunkelman. Together, they’ve made the most generally palatable albums associated with the Xiu Xiu name (including a redux of the music from the mind-freak of a show Twin Peaks), but their newest album, Forget, creeps away from avant-grade weirdness into mainstream territory.
Guided by esteemed producer John Congleton, composer and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, and Angela Seo herself, Forget demands attention right off the bat with the loud and quickly delivered rap sample of “The Call.” Reminiscent of the lyrical delivery from the Prodigy’s “Breathe” (only faster), the sample sassily shouts “you wanna lick/you wanna kiss/you wanna whisper in my ear, bitch?” before passing into a glitchy computer beat that complements Stewart’s syncopated singing. That same glitchiness carries throughout “Queen of Losers,” along with a string of high-pitched tones some may find unappealing.
While these qualities may be typical of Xiu Xiu albums, the pop-oriented dance quality on Forget is not. It doesn’t manifest itself in a house or rave sense (though “Jenny GoGo” does remind of electronica), but in its replication of the grimy, 808 synthesizer sounds currently dominating hip hop songs on the radio. Tracks like “Wondering” and “Forget” are proof of hip hop’s presence on Forget by eliciting a shoulder bop or two, but they differ from other songs on the album to a certain degree, as they are more aligned with an older style of Xiu Xiu.
The charts have been rife with recycled elements for years, with only a few unique voices breaking through with bursts of true sonic creativity. Jamie Stewart, the soul of Xiu Xiu, is one of these.
Forget surely has its moments of wile. One of the strongest comes from album ender “Faith, Torn Apart.” Ambient chimes quietly build into tribal-like harmonies and backward loops before taking a turn in the second half with lyrics delivered as spoken work. Stewart spews random statements like “My room is a mess” and “My new phone is pink,” leaving the listener questioning their relevance but comfortable with their existence.
All in all, this perfectly represents the output an artist of such experimental pedigree would release in 2017. Mixing the best of individual history and modern effect, Forget has enough potential to be one of the most played Xiu Xiu albums for fans.
9,000 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars