Xiu Xiu’s ‘FORGET’ is colossal, devastating
Adrian Mark Lore | Friday, March 3, 2017
Xiu Xiu has been busy. Unlike most other Western bands who condense their output into discrete, full-length albums and release them in usually predictable intervals of time, the members of this avant-garde musical group have sunk their hands into a wide variety of formats and genres in recent years. Since the turn of the millennium, few groups have been as versatile.
Last year, the group released a low-key record of electroacoustic drone music, a “Twin Peaks” cover album and a 38-minute spoken-word recording. In 2015, it released two rare and album-length industrial tracks on cassette, a collaboration with infamous Japanoise producer Merzbow, a 43-minute field recording and two avant-garde collections of indeterminacy — one of them produced using solely hundreds of pink vibrators. And in 2014, aside from composing the soundtrack to a movie, the group released both a folk album and a synth punk album.
Suffice it to say that it has been hard to keep up. In fact, among all of these extraneous releases, Xiu Xiu’s latest full-length effort, “FORGET,” almost went unnoticed. With its innocuous pastel cover, the new record promised little. One could reasonably have expected a fresh batch of field recordings and calming background noise.
Yet the record delivers a colossal dose of the noise pop artistry that Xiu Xiu has perfected over the past decade. Like almost any other Xiu Xiu release, “FORGET” has teeth under its harmless veneer — and they sprout where you least expect them.
The most biting songs, however, spare the subtlety. The first track, “The Call,” bursts open with a bellicose invocation, with frigid synths fist-pumping to aggressive beats in the subsequent fallout. As always, frontman Jamie Stewart’s quavering voice haunts the track, surrounding the listener with duplicitous personas that speak like maddening apparitions.
His distorted, doom-filled cadence similarly carries “Queen of the Losers,” where he towers over a cacophony of apocalyptic bass, discordant glitches, electric howls, harsh noise and percussive sparring. Certainly the most colossal track on “FORGET,” it is also the most emotionally devastating. While Stewart does not craft a precise narrative, the track’s refrain is sufficiently miserable: “Everyone hates you / The pain has just begun,” he sings over the chaos.
The world-building is relegated to the record’s humbler tracks, including “Petite” and “Faith, Torn Apart.” While the former is heartbreaking in its tenderness, it does lack the abrasive flair that accentuates Xiu Xiu’s most affecting work, including the otherwise acoustic “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” off the group’s 2003 breakthrough, “A Promise.”
That said, the alien simplicity of “Faith, Torn Apart” is effectively disorienting, featuring stellar audio engineering and moments of unsettling lyricism. Particularly affecting is the track’s latter half: a straight-faced monologue by an anonymous victim of structural oppression. This is the closest Xiu Xiu comes to a political statement, with biting lines such as, “My family will never see me again / My goofy jokes hide my goofy damnation.” By describing a mosaic of features — including a baseball cap, a hijab, a feather boa and a bindi — that do not quite point at any social group in particular, the group asserts that this victim could represent anyone at all.
While the powerful statement looms over the record’s solemn conclusion, what precedes it is markedly less calm. Indeed, “FORGET” is a maximalist storm overall, more energetic than some of the band’s more intricate efforts. Tracks such as “At Last, At Last” and the lush, danceable “Wondering” — another memorable highlight — are just a step away from pop music, yet the record’s disconsolate narrative never falters.
But this is Xiu Xiu, after all — the band responsible for “Apistat Commander,” a track about the suicide of Stewart’s father, rife with disarming screams and harsh noise. Though the group has undergone many transformations since “A Promise,” it once again demonstrates on “FORGET” its ability to capitalize on emotional devastation. The result is a record that is simultaneously haunting and uplifting, grotesque yet sublime.
Artist: Xiu Xiu
Favorite Track: “Queen of the Losers”
If you like: Coil, Nine Inch Nails, Baths