Do you find some sort of sick, masochistic joy in being depressed? If so, Xiu Xiu’s new album “Forget” might be just for you. Never known for making accessible music, Xiu Xiu gained notoriety last year for their rework of “The Music of Twin Peaks”, a haunting musical retelling of the chilling TV Show’s equally eerie soundtrack. After getting their weird out on that album (and weird in this context is definitely comparative), they have decided to return to what may be the most pop-oriented sound they can make. Despite it’s title, “Forget” makes you remember that not all ‘pop’ music has to be clean-cut and straight forward. Frontman Jamie Stewart and collaborators Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkleman have seemed to craft their sound on this album into the perfect mixture of experimental and pop, calling back hints of Depeche Mode and The Cure and blending them with ‘out’ production choices and often harrowing lyrics.
Although it’s hard to really pin down what a Xiu Xiu record should sound like, it is safe to say that when “Forget” starts, you probably won’t think it’s a Xiu Xiu record. Opening with what seems to be samples from some sort of gangster rap verse, “The Call” is an energetic little opener that right off the bat hints at the record’s more pop-ness while still maintaining it’s eccentrics and aggressiveness. The second song “Queen of The Losers,” is some sort of fucked-up spaghetti western dance song. It also shows the first hint of Xiu Xiu’s blunt fucked-upness. Towards the end of the song, over treated western guitar clangs and tinny percussion, the narrator asks himself “What am I?” He then proceeds to respond, “I’m fuckin’ nothing.” This is the first moment on the album where you really sit back and ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?” The next couple of songs though give you hope that maybe this journey won’t be as bad as you think it could be.
“Wondering” may be the happiest sounding song Xiu Xiu has ever put on tape. It’s got a pumping dance beat, a catchy melody, and relatively normal lyrics. But the demented timbres of the instrumental give you that sense of “wait, isn’t this supposed to be fucked up,” therefore still giving every song on the album at list a little sense of the band’s well-known melancholy. The next song, “Get Up” takes the mold of it’s predecessor but manages to make it more horrific. I’ve never been so immediately taken in by a Xiu Xiu song, which is strange because it starts out with just a simple two-note guitar line over a bare drum machine. However, this time the masterfully creepy delivery of the vocals, and the content of the lyrics, make it still seem like there’s cracks in this safe wall.
The next set of tracks take a dark turn, starting with “Hay Choco Bananas.” This may be the most ill-fitting title for a song ever, because this song is highlighted by Jamie’s signature haunting vocals, bare and creepy synths, and a middle noise section that makes you feel like you’re trapped in a padded jail cell. It is then followed by “Jenny GoGo,” which has a techno dance beat and some of the creepiest lyrics on the album. These include ‘baby, I need a hubby inside me, don’t leave me baby.” Which is then followed by some yelling. In description this all sounds sort of campy and over-the-top, but Xiu Xiu’s strength has always been taking the over the top and making it fit. It’s not just experimentation for the sake of experimentation, it legitimately seems like experimentation for effect, and the effect works.
The next three songs, “At Last, At Last,” “Forget,” and “Petite” all follow a similar mold without making it sound like they’re just copy and pasting every song. Not standout tracks, but not bad tracks at all either. The album is wrapped up by “Faith, Torn Apart” which is a harrowing mix of noise and sung and spoken vocals that adds a fitting bookend to the album. Overall, this may be Xiu Xiu’s most accessible album to date, without losing of their experimental sensibility. It may even be one of the best records released this year so far.
Album Review by Ethan Lally, March 2017