Xiu Xiu
OH NO


5.0
classic

Review

by Tom Sheridan CONTRIBUTOR (15 Reviews)
March 26th, 2021 | 211 replies


Release Date: 03/26/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Meaning is a found thing.

The world is a glass spilling over with pain. It warps the ceilings of the houses where we grew up, and roots beneath our skin like tumors, unseen and all the heavier. Tendrils of the stuff wrap around the heart and wend wires through the brain. Through them, we learn, we breathe, and we live. Some people add more, and some people try with all their might to never grow more of the pain planted in themselves. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes we love in spite of ourselves and marry someone and raise lots of babies, to keep the whole sordid human tragicomedy trundling along.

Over the last two decades, Xiu Xiu has tangled with these impulses as directly as anyone. Closing in on twenty studio releases, on top of collaborations and re-interpretations, they are smattered with panicked anecdotes and anxious Polaroids. Jamie Stewart’s words themselves are zoomed in so closely that they often lose their own context, eggshell tint on a vacant canvas. “Flaming hot Cheetos. Fuego Takis,” he may half-whisper, as an insistent echo from 2002 shouts “This is the worst vacation ever! I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle!” On paper, the tone is anyone’s guess. Back in 2002, it was the clipping shouts that sunk beneath lashing waves of noise that turned the words from an exaggerated mocking of childlike hyperbole into something rather more unsettling. It is the eruption into the mindless noise dance cacophony of a chorus after the quiet chip-dust verse, replete with racing shouts of the titular "Rumpus Room" and the black black blue blue blue blue color of bruises, that does the same in 2021.

This has always been the modus operandi. Xiu Xiu often assimilates the language and sonics of kitsch, but the results are uniformly and unmistakably genuine. This is the same Jamie Stewart who assembled a po-faced ode to relentless self-loathing on a Nintendo DS. In the decade since that experiment, Angela Seo has stayed on board as Jamie’s co-conspirator in caterwaul, racking up a laundry list of instrumental credits of her own in an increasingly volatile discography. The earliest works all struck a tentative equilibrium between confrontational noise and reflective stillness, under the ever looming threat of beautiful melody. With Angela on board, that stylistic trademark, while not gone, has certainly been pushed one way or the other along those internal extremes of noise and beauty, calamity and calm. These ensuing records more easily broken down and pithily identified via Friends episode naming conventions: The One with the LGBT Dance-Pop, The One With the Yammering Noise-Fest, The One Where Jamie Gets Really into Birdwatching.

OH NO, then, is a return. Those competing inner logics of a Xiu Xiu album are the most balanced they've felt since the early releases, but here the guiding hands of Jamie and Angela (on harmonium, autoharp, viola, bass synth, mandolin, bajo quinto, gongs, etc.) are steadier, in total control of the malleable tone. Never quite broken, never quite defiant, never quite serene, never quite sad. The songs themselves cover familiar Xiu Xiu territory – cycling patterns of abuse, the dissolution of love, the defensive sexuality of self-loathing, and, crucially, the way in which these are all intertwined. The kitsch skin is present, too, of course.

"Bong-bing-bonk-o-bung
A head rolling down the stairs.
"

But from the opening notes of Sharon van Etton’s wavering, frightened plea of “no no no,” in "Sad Mezcalita," overwhelming in the quiet restraint of its delivery and strummed accompaniment, and subsequent cathartic bloom into a swooning chorus, there is something more here. OH NO is a refinement of everything that has made Xiu Xiu one of the most fascinating projects of the 21st Century, without sacrificing the raw passion that underlied their appeal in the first place. The record was conceived as an album of duets, performed between Jamie and a host of outside musicians and multi-disciplinarians, that often wouldn’t look like out of place as a prospective indie festival line-up. Friday on the mainstage: Sharon von Etten, Deerhoof, Chelsea Wolfe, Drab Majesty, Grouper...

Casting this wide a net comes with the inherent risk of tonal inconsistency and, coupled with a runtime nearly ten minutes longer than any other record of (almost entirely) original Xiu Xiu compositions, could’ve set up for a project dotted with filler; a hesitancy to cut the work of artists explicitly solicited for collaboration. That is not the way things have worked out. Each piece adds another refracted shade to the spinning kaleidoscope of warmth and gloom.

On early highlight “The Grifters,” Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux matches Jamie’s trademark pseudo-operatic histrionics beat for beat across as soaring a refrain as any in Xiu Xiu’s back catalog. “It Bothers Me All the Time,” with Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, intrudes on its eerie borderline-drone pulse with interruptions of skittering noise. The pitched shrieks mimic the rats and dung beetles offered as favorable comparisons to a degraded “You” in the song’s verse. Liz Harris joins for lead single and proper closer “A Bottle of Rum,” unabashedly triumphant in both its melodies and lyrics that recast the album’s waves of lashing trauma, whether into the bottom of a bottle or an unashamed race towards something new. Things change. The present won’t stay, and in the middle of catastrophe, that must be good news. “Tonite and today,” Liz sings, pulling the title of Xiu Xiu debut Knife Play’s closer, pulling it away from that record’s contextual proximity to the very real tragic death of Jamie’s father, pulling it into something new. Good? Bad? Who the fuck knows. Why ask?

Endings are arbitrary. That’s always felt a guiding light through the winding road of Xiu Xiu’s discography. Jamie and Angela have engaged with trauma, stared it in the face for what it is, but the point has never been to wallow. It is the necessary life project of the pessimist to find a reason for optimism, and for as many of their previous records touch greatness in that pursuit, none have realized it quite so potently as OH NO. “Goodbye for Good,” with frequent collaborator Greg Saunier, builds from a synth drone and rhythmless percussion through a slowly mutating noise field, conjuring cracking jaws, disgusted plants, and the bag of suicide pills under the water heater when the ecosystem collapses. But the song keeps going. Are the repeated chants of the title from a person’s dying farewell to the flowers, or the flowers bidding adieu to their oppressors, ready to take back the ruins?



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user ratings (97)
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Not easy putting this brilliant thing into words, criticize away por favor. But more importantly listen to this hot masterpiece. Trying to imagine a scenario where this ain't the aoty and coming up blank

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Also the actual 15 second spoken word outro thing about ants is hysterically out of place

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


8688 Comments


Nice! I’ve gotta check this out. I really liked Girl with Basket of Fruit, and that was my introduction to Xiu Xiu

Great review btw!

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


13600 Comments


each piece adds another refracted shade to the spinning kaleidoscope of warmth and gloom

pos pos pos will check



Digging: Julia Kwamya - Feel Good About Feeling Bad

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Aaaah thank you!! Phero you will 3.5 this in a heartbeat  ❤️❤️

DT this is v v v different from GwBoF but it is also way better (and I like that one a whole bushel already)

fogza
March 26th 2021


1215 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Is this a good place to start with this band?

Digging: The Great Yawn - The Waves? The Tide and The Moon

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, it's a pretty friendly entry place

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 26th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hi fuck you I bet this review is awesome I will read it later



Is this album an okay place to (effectively) start with Xiu Xiu - have heard Forget and Fruitgirlbasket once each a couple of years ago, but that's it



EDIT: oh wow lmao okay I will read above posts more often

Digging: Xiu Xiu - OH NO

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I am down for the fucking, Johnny, anytime anywhere



And this actually makes a super nice bookend intro to the band jamming it alongside Knife Play. Been basically switching back and forth between them all week and they are running with some sweet parallels, intentional (tonite and today) and unintentional (toking ganja on my night walks goin "woah")

anatelier
March 26th 2021


4062 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I didn’t connect with girl fruit basket but am eager to listen to this one on the back of a prescient porc review

Digging: Feu! Chatterton - Palais d'Argile

JesperL
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


2812 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

woah that's some high praise and an amazing review, will def checc

Digging: Lunation Fall - Near

BaselineOOO
March 26th 2021


620 Comments


I'm afraid of making fun of this band because I know their fans might track me and kill me.

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

We’ll all probably top ourselves before we get to you, so you’re safe. Mock away!

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
March 26th 2021


5404 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Bold rating, great review! I was waiting for a more pumped record after the two singles. After a couple of listens, I dig Sad Mezcalita, the Cure cover and Fuzz Gong Fight most, along with Rumpus and Rum.



I'm happy Jaime recovered after his meltdown. Can't wait to see them live again.

Digging: Motorpsycho - Kingdom of Oblivion

fogza
March 26th 2021


1215 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think I'm losing my mind, I couldn't figure out why this suddenly sounded like the Cure. It took me virtually the whole song to figure it out.

anatelier
March 26th 2021


4062 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

rating chart is a foam finger

anatelier
March 26th 2021


4062 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh btw porc my first comment itt was my 4,000th

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Only 3.5 ratings from here on in, plz, let’s get this the longest finger in the biz

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Holy shit anat I’m honored 😊😊



Gonna make sure I’m cognizant of 8k to take straight to the Heavy Frigate thread and start spamming “Boats and hoes”

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2021


7546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Also yeah Cure cover is fucking good thingz. New law: Chelsea Wolfe features on everything.



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