Xiu Xiu Fabulous Muscles

[5RC; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: experimental rock, industrial pop-noise
Others: Throbbing Gristle, Skeletons, Mount Eerie, The Double, Cabaret Voltaire (early)

It's very hard to write about Xiu Xiu's music, but that's mainly due to the fact that it's so damn hard to listen to. Nevertheless, one of the most important elements of being an artist is to remain completely true to yourself and your craft. Jamie Stewart, the only constant member of Xiu Xiu, could probably not agree more. He certainly doesn't lack the ability to express what's on his mind and in his heart. He is the master of being able to get to the absolute core of his feelings with every successive album he releases, regardless of how many listeners he leaves behind in the process. Stewart is someone who appears to not get enough out of life, or maybe he's just someone who's seen so much in his time that nothing affects him anymore. I'd imagine that in addition to being the most uncomfortable singer to listen to, he's probably the most jaded human being in existence. If Xiu Xiu's music isn't a testament to this, well... I'm not sure what else is.

Fabulous Muscles, his newest album, begins slightly unpredictable with a soft and simple Casio-sounding keyboard on "Crank Heart." This instrumentation is most likely a result of his time working with labelmate Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, who Stewart will be spending a bit of time with on the road this year. It insinuates that this album will be less abrasive than Xiu Xiu's previous work. It also stands as one of the more user-friendly songs of their catalogue, with its somewhat basic pop arrangement. "I Luv the Valley Oh" also starts fairly subdued and eventually unfolds into one of the finer tracks on the album. In a lot of ways, it's on par with his work on "Suha."

"Little Panda McElroy" doesn't do much to push the envelope, but is a song that really starts to promote the idea that this is a truly fantastic collection of work that Stewart has (once again) come up with. Things tend to get a little darker throughout the remainder of the album. Avid Xiu Xiu fans will appreciate this half of the album the most. The dialogue-only "Support Our Troops (Black Angels Oh)" is a collection of abstract electronic and feedback noises that provide a very unsettling mood upon its listener. One of the other tracks worth mentioning is the title track, "Fabulous Muscles," which appeared on last year's split-release with the Jim Yoshi Pile-Up. It's a different version than before, but it remains signature Jamie Stewart with its incredibly perverted and decadent lyrics, of which I won't share here.

Xiu Xiu isn't a gray band, in the sense that it's unfeasible to hear anyone declare them as being "okay." You're either on board because you somehow relate to what you get out of their music, or you're one of the others who are running as quickly as possible to get away from its painfully harsh reality. Although I won't say it's the best album of their ever-growing catalogue, Fabulous Muscles contains some of the band's best songs since Knife Play. As with all other Xiu Xiu albums, one thing is for certain: Stewart doesn't hold back on discussing excruciating topics. So, when I say it's important to remain true to your art, look no further than Stewart to deliver the goods. He's continually offering some of the most artistically challenging music around, yet he somehow manages to maintain a good enough balance to reach some of the more mainstream-type listeners. There are hardly any other musicians alive that can leave as huge of an impact as this, and I believe that's what keeps us coming back.

1. Crank Heart
2. I Luv the Valley Oh
3. Bunny Gamer
4. Little Panda McElroy
5. Support Our Troops (Black Angels Oh)
6. Fabulous Muscles (Mama Black Widow)
7. Brian the Vampire
8. Nieces Pieces (Boat Knife Version)
9. Clowne Towne
10. Mike

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