Review: Xiu Xiu – FORGET
National Music Reviews
Xiu Xiu = Raime + New Order + Author & Punisher
Last November, Xiu Xiu announced a new studio album and shared the lead single, “Wondering.” While the group has often ridden the line between experimental and pop, this track dragged them almost all the way to the latter side. “Wondering” features a basic verse-chorus-verse structure with a heavy dance groove and a singalong chorus. Whether you hated or loved the simple pleasures this track offered, FORGET ends up being an entirely different experience. While the other nine tracks do incorporate elements of indie pop, Xiu Xiu’s characteristic strangeness is present throughout. FORGET solidifies Jamie Stewart and company as one of the 21st century’s most inventive noise-rock groups, but also reminds listeners that Xiu Xiu have quite an ear for catchy hooks and an excellent knack for writing cripplingly emotional lyrics.
One of the crucial ways Xiu Xiu keep their experimental tendencies alive is through sound design and mixing. The instrumentation here is noisy, cluttered and incredibly claustrophobic. However big the choruses of these tracks might be, there’s still a bedroom-studio feel to FORGET, sounding more like a few people fiddling with wires than a live rock band. Take, for example, the title track. While the main groove of the song is bouncy and danceable, it comes buried beneath layers of fuzz, static and bit-crushed drums. Of course, atop the whole thing is Stewart’s characteristic moans and shouts, which would make even the most commercial of songs sound uncomfortable. Other notable examples of the pop-experimental conflict show up on “At Last, At Last,” where an unremarkable four-on-the-floor drum loop is ornamented with delightful chromatic and distorted vocal samples, or when a fuzz-drenched guitar solo interrupts the delicate keyboard melodies on “Get Up.” What’s so inviting about FORGET is how these moments of eccentricity come hidden in some of the most immediate tracks Xiu Xiu have released to date.
The one exception to FORGET’s noise-pop leanings ends up being the most powerful track. “Petite,” a simple string and piano ballad, leaves the static aside and allows Stewart’s voice to shine. The track finds the singer in familiar lyrical territory, wrestling with ideas of depression, religion and fate. “You feel worry and you should / You feel forced because you are,” sings Stewart, reminding the listener of the brutality of tragedy and how, perhaps, things might not get better in the end. The ultimate conclusion of the track, that “what God wants, she does,” only solidifies the complete submission to the evils of nature Stewart is facing.
The rest of the record follows in the thematic footsteps of “Petite.” What ends up making these lyrics so potent is their honesty. Stewart’s words don’t coddle or comfort. Instead, they look horror straight in the face and acknowledge its presence. A line like “Everyone loves you, the pain has just begun / Everyone hates you, the pain has just begun” on “Queen of the Losers” doesn’t feel good to hear, but the message feels truthful, especially through Stewart’s trembling and pained voice. There’s something cathartic about how openly depressive these lyrics are. Instead of trying to offer phony remedies or counsel to problems, Xiu Xiu’s music pats the listener on the back and says, “Yeah, it does suck.”
FORGET might not be the complete departure fans had hoped for (or feared). Instead, it’s another fantastic Xiu Xiu album for the books. After 14 years and 12 albums of original material, the group continues to make consistently great music for sad times, and hopefully they will for years to come. –Connor Lockie