Review Summary: How much love hurts.
Xiu Xiu have always operated at extremes, but lately they seem to really push boundaries, especially when they feel confrontational. Girl with Basket of Fruit
definitely turned heads even for the most initiated members of their fan base. Collages of noise, samples, drones and various percussive elements were combined with Jamie’s uncanny croon in order to craft one punishing affair. OH NO
gave the impression we reached an oasis in the desert after that. Recently, both Stewart and Angela Seo have been toying more with synthesizers and piano, searching for anything between poignant to dreadful sounding to develop a truly dark atmosphere for the latest record, Ignore Grief
. The two are helped this time by David Kendrick (ex-Devo, Sparks and Gleaming Spires). Simply put, this could easily be a soundtrack to a horror or a shivery thriller movie. However, there is more to the LP than just the disturbing factor. Split in half between imaginary and real stories, all tracks detail often disgusting narratives of harassment, violence, submission or murder, mainly sexual in nature. Exploring the most deviant behaviors, consequences of depression, loss, self-hatred, as well as criminal tendencies have long been on the duo’s list, so this collection of songs screams Xiu Xiu.
Despite finding it easier to get into than Girl with Basket of Fruit
, there aren’t any conventional structures on Ignore Grief
. Most of the tunes float by, preseting intense, layered sound scapes that act as climaxes to book ending dark ambient/droning segments. Five cuts are sung by Angela and the other five by Jamie, each member building his own mood. Nevertheless, the finishing touches on the material created a cohesiveness, so this doesn’t feel like two merged EPs. You’ve got Seo’s industrial “The Real Chaos Cha Cha Cha” and “Maebae Baeby”, whose harsh synths reminisce Last Rights
era Skinny Puppy or early Einstuerzende Neubauten, for example. Using noisy oscillators and pounding, distorted beats between eerie, quiet moments, she mostly speaks the lyrics in a help-me-I’m-a-hostage voice. On the other hand, Jamie’s theatrical croon echoes from the darkest corners of the Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge, accompanying the dissonant piano leads and Mellotron washes of sound on “666 Pictures of Nothing” & “Tarsier, Tarsier, Tarsier, Tarsier”. His side might be a tad kitschier, yet it made me wish Xiu Xiu had directed a fitting movie to watch while playing this album. From here, things get blurry as the two members cross paths and blend these formulas until exhaustion.
Other highlights include “Esquerita, Little Richard”, one of the only two songs that maintain an audible urgency throughout its length (along with “Brothel Creeper”), as well as the mournful ditty “Pahrump”. The former shares a sense of rhythm through its pulsing drone and background sequencer, allowing various layers of synths and effects to wrap around them, while Angela recites the lyrics. The latter feels similar to an orchestral eulogy played by electronic instruments. A trumpet or kazoo enters at some point, sounding like crying babies in the background, before whirring chords intensify. It’s an interesting cut to say the least. Meanwhile, the schizophrenic “For M” works well as a final act with loud organ and cymbals crashing over Stewart’s ghastly vocals. The tune is quickly reduced to a drone, but the hellish sonic punishment continues, leaving a buzzing noise to slowly end this unnerving journey. Although I listened to Ignore Grief
multiple times already, I have yet to decide if it should have offered more or it is too much. The often minimalistic approach requires time to settle in, still the duo clearly had in mind the bigger picture. It definitely has a charm of its own, despite being hard to digest and most importantly, enjoy. In a way, it shouldn’t become a pleasant listen due to the nature of the stories it depicts. Even so, it’s a really moody one, the way every other Xiu Xiu album turns out to be these days. Taking risks is appreciated though.