Barbara (our Chief Executive Officer) rarely lets anyone besides herself review anything Xiu Xiu related. One time Vsevolod got lucky, but it cost him his life (some say he’s still alive, living on nuts and berries while exiled in Siberia). Though it seems that the most popular rumor around the Only Angels Have Wings camp is that Barbara cut open his forehead with a roofing shingle and then, to add insult to injury, pulled down his underpants. I too share in this great appreciation of Xiu Xiu—so, in an act of rebellion against this totalitarian dictatorship and to avenge the death of my comrade I decided to take matters into my own hands. While Barbara was on her little summer trip to Ireland (I hope you had a great time, Barb) I put on a fake mustache and béret, hopped a cab to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, flew to France and stole her promo copy of La Forêt. Muaha.
So now I’m back in hiding and please to report that Corey McCulloch is back with the band! Fabulous Muscles was fabulous (ha!) but I really wanted him back. A Promise being my Xiu Xiu album of choice, I detected a slight absence of the quiet yet melodic songs that that album was sprinkled with (“Sad Pony Guerella Girl,” et cetera). There were no mid tempo numbers, instead things switched back and forth from exquisite pop oddities to somber horns—so in this sense La Forêt reminds me of A Promise. And I definitely think that he has a hand in this now regained flow. One thing that has naturally progressed through Fabulous Muscles up to this album is the production quality. Is it just me or does each successive Xiu Xiu release sound warmer and warmer. There are still the lacerating notes and weird noises but really, what I’m listening to does not sound nearly as depressingly cold as Knife Play, nor as detached and raw as A Promise. But anyway, if you’re a Xiu Xiu fan you’re a Xiu Xiu fan and none of this mumbo jumbo is going to effect your opinion, so let’s just talk about the songs.
“Baby Captain” is second to the devastating “Suha” from 2002’s Knife Play for the ‘no, really, Xiu Xiu’s saddest song ever’ award (sorry, “Ian Curtis Wishlist” physically pains me when I hear it, and it is beyond sadness). Stewart’s sings “I hope that white gold girl forgets about you / and your crooked blood seeps up from hell / and you see what a stunner you are.” The echoing final chorus of “there’s a candle in my window” will leave shivers running down your spine. The rounded techno beats during the chorus of “Pox” make that song the perfect example of the type of gothic techno I would actually love to dance to—which leads me to “Bog People” and Muppet Face.” These are great, great songs. Dancy and catchy while still retaining the band’s trademark odd instrumentation (electric harp) and punishing electronics (thunderous echo towards the end of “Muppet Face”). I love these songs, but their inclusion disrupts the flow of the album in some ways. This is why A Promise remains the most essential Xiu Xiu album to me. I can sit down and listen to the whole thing from beginning to end and lay in bed afterwards feeling miserable and depressed. With Fabulous Muscles the flow is somewhat hampered by those pop songs that make you want to wiggle your tushie. So like Fabulous Muscles, La Forêt is also susceptible to this inherent weakness. This is a really small complaint though, especially since the crux of the band remains strong and intact—instruments that sound alien yet familiar, goofy yet depressing. Jamie Stewart has admitted in various interviews that the two often go hand in hand.
The oboe in “Ale” is exactly this type of familiar sounding instrument used to its weird, goofy and tragic extreme. The gamelan and all of the exotic instruments that the band has at their disposal always help to make their records sound foreign yet beautiful and familiar. Those gongs, woodwinds and vibrators combine to something that is at the same time frightening, surreal and calming and beautiful. Like a helpless demented child, with a head the size of a beach ball. You don’t know what the fuck to do or feel first—terror, sorrow, laughter or just be plain sick to your stomach. Xiu Xiu throws it all at you at once, with lacerating electronics for good measure.
What the fuck do I know, but I’m going to say it anyway. Xiu Xiu thrives on the unexpected, the edgy, the guttural. “Ian Curtis Wishlist” is one of the most honest recordings of the past fifty years for a reason. It’s fucking selfish, but I want Jamie Stewart to be miserable again (I once heard him remark in a radio interview just how badly fucked up his personal life was at that time). Miserable to the point of insanity. While halfway there he still possesses more urgency in his craft than half of the other miserable loafers out there, it’s hard to accept after experiencing what this man is like at his most instinctive, reactionary self.
- Andrew Iliadis
/sept 1st 2005/