Avant-Pop to Rattle the Senses
Xiu Xiu have bombarded our eardrums with their eclectic brand of ‘80s-inspired noise pop for the better part of two decades now. Yet, while the band’s output has remained steady during this time — yielding over a dozen full-length releases — their lineup has not. In fact, lead singer James Stewart and his unnerving warble are the only remnants left of Xiu Xiu’s original configuration, as the band continue to rotate through new members, all the while audaciously experimenting with new sounds and styles.
The electronic group’s latest album, FORGET, sees the band continuing to tinker with their sound. However, as opposed to many of their previous works in which Xiu Xiu favored esoteric and borderline impenetrable musical conventions, here, we see the band embracing a much more accessible sound — relatively speaking, of course. “Wondering” resembles an indie-pop hit, with a pulsing synth bass and lushly harmonized vocal lines, like a Naked and Famous single that has undergone a dark acid trip. The following tracks, “Get Up, ” “Jenny GoGo” and — later on — “At Last, At Last,” continue this trend of sterile, pop-friendly music, with moody, electronica-based soundscapes that harken back to ‘80s goth rock. “Jenny GoGo” most noticeably captures this aesthetic, as Stewart’s eerily quivering voice does its best impression of Ian Curtis, while a sixteenth-note bassline drives on in the background. “Petite” even offers a brief acoustic interlude. Here, Stewart sings over a lone acoustic guitar, which is eventually joined by a string section. The song maintains a strikingly subdued quality that nicely juxtaposes some of Xiu Xiu’s heavier-hitting moments.
And the band do indeed live up to their reputation of producing deafening electronic soundscapes, as FORGET offers plenty of heavy-hitting moments that contrast the more consonant, radio-friendly tracks featured on the album. In fact, FORGET’s opening tracks, “The Call” and “Queen of the Losers,” remind us of the raw intensity that describes much of the band’s catalog. The former opens with highly discordant electro-industrial textures, colored by some profanity-laced rapping. “Queen of the Losers,” on the other hand, more closely resembles straight-ahead noise rock, yielding even harsher textures, hauntingly fragile vocals and an incredibly static harmony that operates on a single chord. Generally speaking, while FORGET does see Xiu Xiu writing some surprisingly melodic tracks, the band prefer rhythmic-centric atmospheres. We see this approach clearly manifest on the eponymous “Forget,” which culminates in a powerful finale of pounding electronic drums and guitars.
Ultimately, FORGET may disappoint some of Xiu Xiu’s more ardent fans, who simply crave the blaring electronica that has come to define the band’s sound. Yet, to the experimentally-minded listener who desires slightly more pronounced melodies, Xiu Xiu’s newest work truly delivers, striking a delicate balance between avant-garde and pop. Hopefully, Stewart and company continue to build upon this rare sonic complexity on further releases.