Review Summary: It may come as no surprise that Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart is involved with the most emotional record of the year, but how about one with accessible pop hooks and no filler?2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Former Ghosts is a super group of sorts, consisting of Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Freddy Ruppert (This Song Is A Mess But So Am I) and Nika Roza (Zola Jesus). Okay, maybe it’s not a line-up that is likely to take the music industry by storm, but rather the coming together of three of the most exciting artists currently making experimental pop music. Although it’s Ruppert who has written the bare bones of Fleurs
, the majority of people’s entry point to this record will be the involvement of Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart. Over the past decade Stewart has been both adored and despised by critics, as Xiu Xiu’s music teeters on the balance of creative and pretentious. Those that lean towards the latter opinion will be delighted to know that Fleurs
is as close to a straight up Synth-Pop record as Stewart is ever likely to make.
Interestingly, 2009 is also the year where former Xiu Xiu member Caralee McElroy joined the band Cold Cave, whose more universal approach to synth pop on latest album, Love Comes Close
, looks set to make them a certified buzz band of 2010. Admittedly this record isn’t as catchy or dance floor ready as that one, but at its core, is perhaps the most honest and passionate record of the year. Those familiar with any of the three artists involved will know that each of them wear their heart on their sleeve, and this is the strength of Fleurs
throughout its duration. Like many records I suppose, this is an album about death, love and heartbreak, but unlike many records you’d be pushed to find an ounce of superficiality in any single lyric. Take, Mother
, for example, a song literally about Ruppert wanting to contact his dead mother, resulting in his desperate chorus admission that, “nowhere feels like home”. I hate to tarnish this sentiment with a cliché, but Ruppert is almost literally singing his heart out here.
With the involvement of Jamie Stewart, and Ruppert on primary songwriting duties, it may come as a surprise that it’s Nika Roza that steals the show. While only providing vocals on a handful of tracks, she proves herself to be one of the most exciting vocalists to emerge in recent years. With her voice higher in the mix than on her recordings with solo project, Zola Jesus, here they are given the justice they deserve. The albums centrepiece, The Bull and The Ram
, is a clear example of this, as the vocals pierce through the track culminating in probably my favourite song of the year. Roza’s lyrics tell a pretty simple story of a relationship falling apart, but its greatness is in the delivery and powerful repetition of its chorus hook, “Cause I’m falling away from you”.
While all three of the artists involved are best known for making noisy music, this record’s sense of melody is striking. The dissonant sounds that you might expect from these musicians, are for the most part replaced with reverb drenched synths and buoyant electronic beats. The vocals and lyrics take centre stage, but there’s also enough musical variation here; from frantic pop single, Hold On
, to the classically new wave sounding ballad Hello Again
. All of these themes are brought together beautifully on the album’s haunting curtain call, This is My Last Goodbye
, as Ruppert and Roza’s vocals combine perfectly. This was initially meant to be Roza’s sole contribution to the record, but on hearing the finished result it’s easy to see why they asked her back for more.
It’s frustrating that, for one reason or another, this is a record that seems to have gone completely under the critic’s radar. Whether it’s just been overlooked, or critics have stayed away expecting a difficult art rock monstrosity, it’s ironic that this is the best (and most accessible) thing Stewart has been involved with in years. Cutting out the aspects of their work that might have put people off in the past, these three artists have combined to make the truly special record that they’ve always been capable of.