Xiu Xiu Girl with Basket of Fruit

[Polyvinyl; 2019]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: noise pop, character study, experimental, industrial, art rock
Others: Profligate, The Double, Hard Corps, Merchandise, Wetware, Container

“…now my heart is as green as weeds, grown to outlive their season.”
– Neko Case

What now: A despondent juvenile mindset-friendly space for well-curated wor(l)d gurglin’ self-indulgence. You’re the girl. You’re the basket. You’re sentience. Well on your well aware way. You’re a well. Depths or depressions, time’s deciding. Your adventure here isn’t yours for choosing, only freedom from it. A litany stumbling out to breakfast. A speed bag motorboat, buff and rebuff, snapping back at a blurry blinding rate. Beared-up slashing gusts, collecting welts in the hail. Staining remembrance with smeary adolescent poetics (see: J.S.-cited item of inspiration, Get In The Van), shy, defeatist gesticulation on public transportation to whoever’s not looking, confidence de-mythologizing itself for a cheap edge, red eyes and hunched over, hermetic, water resisting. Won’t… make… even a… little… splash… But still soaking you to the bone — silent, silty, and inscrutably gradual.

What? Hey, no dodgy proposition review of a dodgy proposition album here — namely when the proposition’s very dodginess is likely, in part, what you were hoping for. Xiu Xiu’s eleventh is not only a masterful work of art on its own, but a fine reward for those who’ve been keeping up with this maniacal confection since 2002. Jamie Stewart and his collaborators have been steadily prolific since then, and the breadth of vision and expert honing of their signature noise-pop blend have stayed remarkably consistent. Be it from Xiu Xiu or a side project, one is usually hasty to call even a given track (or video, which they have a lot of and, at least in their choice of talent, apply the same professionalism to) a misstep. As ever, one might wince or run cold or snort a reactionary guffaw at those brash, jutting vocal affectations. But the work is sturdily built to run a keen low boil on whatever it may be triggering. With the diabolical craft of this group, it’s as much insidious psychological warfare as traditional pop songwriting.

Girl with Basket of Fruit is one for low-leaning like a sweaty-balled fist into your faithful sullen as much as it’s a staggering 50-spittake pile-up sort of experience. Also, in the clearing smoke and glowing dust, some cold light of day. The more readably topical of Xiu Xiu’s portraits (“Daphny,” “Petite”) have always been stronger for their surrounding racket. “Mary Turner, Mary Turner” is another gripping protest-song-as-glaring-out-from-wreckage, this time about a horrific injustice inflicted against a noble seeker of its opposite. I recall watching the Eyes on the Prize series about the civil rights movement in Mr. Sherman’s 11th grade social studies class. A fever of rage and despair gripped me upon learning of the atrocities covered in the series, and as with learning about Hiroshima and The Holocaust, a part of me knew this rage and despair wasn’t just some growing pain. These acts and the many like it that continue are a fathomless scream against anything that might make human consciousness seem worthwhile, let alone something manageable toward the preservation of our sorry species. If it’s immature to loathe humanity for its part in the grotesque moral ambiguity with regard to these systematically devastating, patently inhumane actions, then “maturity” is in sore need of redefining. So, no, the “Fuck your guns. Fuck your war…” bit at the end of this song doesn’t strike me as a misstep. Xiu Xiu may be largely about exploring tension and catharsis on a more abstract level, but that evergreen rage against humankind’s endless capitulation to evil always reads sincere in their case. And this is because, and never in spite, of their ineloquent, gawky teenage approach.

Rest of the place is a glorious mess. Bass lines throttle, rests swell and wobble, dance is implored then stridently discouraged. Harsh noise discipline is meted out. Those who took to Stewart’s instrumental album from last year have a new friend in lead single “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” (those Land of Rape and Honey-esque vocal samples are on point). Cavernous, yet mostly just voice and stringed acoustics (an approach used to very different effect on solid, shirtripper finale “Normal Love”), “Amargi ve Moo” is a dire scene. On one given listen, I pictured two heads on spikes cracking wise to their accompanying carrion. When this fails to get beaks out of eye sockets, they sing a sad, sad song, cracking into tears through the emotion in the melody. The buzzards grumble but don’t stop gorging. So the heads start hollering. Gnashed teeth and vitriolic gibbering. Choice words for whippoorwill peripheral phantom threats. Jaw dislodging glossolalic strafings. The buzzards don’t budge, craning and shouldering and mowing it all down with determined vigor.

Weepy ballad “The Wrong Song” should be a highlight for any new fans the band might’ve won with their Twin Peaks album. It ably assails with its sweeping ache while retaining the dread and trapdoor-transitional disorientation that colors the album as a whole. Maybe I’m crazy, but (that’s how it goes) the bowed progression at 2:32 kinda hits like a refracting, delayed-reaction fragment of the vocal melody on the verses of this crusted L.A. Looks gemstone. And while some songs fade out, this one fades, floats around a bit with Lita and Ozzy, returns, dry-gulches the sadsacked with 60 pummeling seconds of queasy peals of drone, and then it’s out the door.

Where some idea-rich groups get in their own way, the limber-limbed clutter that Xiu Xiu thrive on is somehow both lumbering and lithesome. The repugnantly heavy-handed and the impossibly fragile balletically coexist. We rarely catch a breath, thrust forth in their brusquely anthemic propulsion. In this light, Stewart continues to revel in his limitations as a vocalist. There’s this flagrant middle-aged thing all over “Ice Cream Truck,” the singer achieving the nonplussed alacrity of a dickhead on a call-in show: griping, playing at well-heeled and blindly starbursting out in mid-fade while his drying-machine sneakers tumble in the background. The host says nothing, letting the caller drown in his own dickheadedness. A beautiful thing.

It’s tempting to say this is Xiu Xiu’s most solid release since their debut, 2002’s Knife Play, but it could be that it just feels more akin than this project has in a while to the acoustic instrumentation and serio-comic histrionic magic of that record. But unlike some of their peers, time hasn’t softened Xiu Xiu. Perhaps there’s more room to stretch in their given niche, but when you revisit just the last five years, their productivity/lack of compromise ratio rests heroically in their (our) favor. And fun as it might be to rank this group’s discography, comparing and contrasting is a losing game. For going on 20 years, when Xiu Xiu have put out an album, it’s one of that year’s best. It’s no small thrill to see this trend continue.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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