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Friday, January 15, 2010

Xiu Xiu - Dear God, I Hate Myself

I can't really call this a review, because the album hasn't come out yet, but the new Xiu Xiu leaked and it really sort of brings an endpoint-beginningpoint to the circle of my last 5 years.

I found Xiu Xiu through Fabulous Muscles back in high school. I'd read about them before and had no idea what their sound was or who Jamie Stewart was or any of that. Fabulous Muscles has since been sort of the breakthrough for Xiu Xiu where they started to embrace the idea of being a pop band in spite of themselves. Pop music by people who loved the saccharine-styled mopiness of 80s new wave/popular goth but had no real understanding of how to recreate it. The harsh noise bursts and occasional anguished screams kept it experimental enough, but the melodies and other elements going on under them were what drew me in. I later got into Knife Play, their extremely noise-centric debut but I listened to it maybe half as much.

Fabulous Muscles was a true earmark for this band, brought them tons of new fans and really showed off what they'd been working up toward. Then the next few albums, La Foret and Air Force especially, were good but mostly rehashes of the same material. It sounded like it was trying to be groundbreaking rather than breaking ground. I lost interest. Even though Xiu Xiu in high school had been such a major force in my emotional life (first break-up ever, listened to "I Luv the Valley" a lot like everyone else) and in my musical life (I started to play with sound and lyrics in a way that broke away from what was essentially Bob Dylan and pop-punk influences to really try and craft something people would notice). And while singing pained anthems in my living room while clashing kitchen knives together as if it were a threat to whoever actually listened seemed really important at the time, it just sounds immature now. I realized Xiu Xiu was having the same problems following up Fabulous Muscles. It was just not maturing.

All of a sudden, after I stopped caring, I see a leak over at lucidmedia.blogspot.com for the new Xiu Xiu and best of all, it has a bold whiny title: Dear God, I Hate Myself. Something about the now muscular Jamie Stewart staring you right in the face in stark black and white made me want to hear it. On the cover of Fabulous Muscles he has this very silly pose with a stuffed animal. A joke perhaps about the sadsack vocal delivery, but it rang truer than it needed to.

Now check this out:

He can kick your ass now.

The pain is still there, but the hip-hop font and that glare is telling you that Jamie Stewart is now the gay Henry Rollins. People will get choked out. Now the music itself isn't "tough" or anything, but it is a knock-out (yuk yuk yuk).

The opener, "Gray Death," is like the Pet Shop Boys had a rape baby with Death in June. The depth of the production and songwriting never once shares the shaky stumble of earlier Xiu Xiu, but still drags you caveman-like to all of the twisted places it wants you to experience. While it lacks that brash gusto, it shows that there are more effective ways to get under someone's skin than through simply hacking into it.

Then the sound goes even deeper as Xiu Xiu opts for new lows in volume. On "House Sparrow" the hushed accompaniment makes way for some new highs in Jamie Stewart's dramaqueen intensity. Then it goes into what could arguably be called a "beat." The whole song snakes through the same abrasive flirtations that have always made the band raw and emotional, but held back in a way that finally focuses the violence rather than lets it become the song. Sheer violence just doesn't impress me like it did when I was a raw nerve high school kid who'd never been on anti-depressants yet.

So the circle went like this. It came screaming into existence in high school. I was mad and in agony but I still appreciated beauty and sentimentality. Then Xiu Xiu lost me for a bit by using the very same tricks that made me love them. Now all of a sudden, it's a new decade and Xiu Xiu has accomplished the sound I think they have been trudging towards since their beginning. They have again become an advocating voice in the midst of panic and sadness, however tempered with a practicality that wasn't there before. An impression that maybe nothing is the end, everything is a circle.

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