Listening to Xiu Xiu is a completely unique experience. It's bleak and unapologetically dejected in spirit. But rather than simplistic, turgid malaise, the air of every Xiu Xiu release is more suited for poignant, obscured, and rapturous meditations on ingrained, compounded anguish. A spirited dispiriting, if you will. A moment's bland depression listening to canned Shania Twain at the abortion clinic made climactic and clawing-at-ones-heartspace-just-to-feel-alive cinematic. Everyone knows how transporting flexing into a personal drama can be. How irrational and beautiful it is to let go of our many drives of self-preservation, even when they seem most necessary.
Xiu Xiu has been quite prolific since their debut, and I'm happy to report that each one of their four albums are uncommonly moving listening experiences. If you're adventurous, and perhaps patient, you will find much to love about this music. If The Faint had music half as intriguing as their album covers, maybe they'd be something in this league. Radiohead fans that have liked the band's direction rather than constantly throwing on The Bends or "Creep" would be close to appreciating this kind of sound. It also doesn't hurt if you've enjoyed Swans, Pornography-era Cure, Joy Division, or Thighpaulsandra at one time or another. Without exception, this is dreary, occasionally demanding, soulcrush. That is, unless, you consider the lyric "there will always be a healthy heart to disrespect" amidst the comparatively wistful (yet definitely disorienting) music of "Bog People" something approaching a moodswing.
But how's the new Xiu Xiu, you ask? Well, not much has changed. The biggest shift in the group's sound seemed to occur between A Promise and Fabulous Muscles, where the band started using more traditional instrumentation (i.e., guitars that sound like guitars). Their nihilistic drum machine flourishes, dryly confrontational lyrics, and violent synth stabs might be the group's signature, but Stewart's songwriting prowess and backwards hook science has become what keeps the listener coming back (and, hopefully, winning new ones). In other words, it's business as usual, but there is not a damn thing wrong with that when it comes to this group. Perhaps future releases could use some longer songs. Maybe some instrumentals. A conceptual double-album? It doesn't really matter, since rather than trying to out-do themselves, Xiu Xiu are perfecting their own aesthetic, and perfecting it well. But, yeah, short answer: La Foret is an incredible album. Ah'm luvin it! Dyn-o-mite! #1 Dad! Show me the money! Shock the monkey!
With "Clover," La Foret opens with one of the band's more reserved, sparsely orchestrated pieces, setting the stage in a foreboding fashion with its chilling instrumental vibes-led sections. These songs are essential to a given Xiu Xiu release, as they provide a nicely meditative compliment to the ecstatic cacophony of their more driving songs. I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't acknowledge "Muppet Face," "Pox," "Baby Captain," "Saturn" and "Bog People," the numbers that are the most immediately satisfying. The rest are more of that "Tonite and Today" variety of Xiu Xiu song that you can get lost in, but aren't likely to always have the patience for. "Yellow Raspberry" and "Baby Captain" actually fall somewhere in between. Having the percussion and the distortion come in between more clipped, delicate soft-singing and minor melody, the tracks work as a bridge between the band's dual modes.
Gone, for the most part, are the metal scrapes and pangs of their debut, yet there remains a strong industrial underpinning to the sound. But that's only a "file-under" recommendation. This music is much deeper than all that. It's sitting and staring in your dark space, trilling fingers in the wound and rows of hissing pistons for walls. This is Nine Inch Nails, feed-the-cancer-catharsis, in fearless mode. Dismay made rapturous, abstract and gloriously unnerving. Unnerved becomes something of a Zen state while listening to this music. A poignant reminder that, at our most wretched, we can be utterly fearless. Not afraid to crawl, not afraid to stop dead. And when fear sneaks in ("Saturn"), let your eyes widen and swallow hard. It's as close to alleviation as you're likely to achieve in locales this breathtakingly livid with emotional torment.
2. Muppet Face
3. Mousey Toy
5. Baby Captain
7. Rose of Sharon (Grey Ghost Version)
9. Bog People
10. DangerousYou Shouldn't Be Here
11. Yellow Raspberry