Xiu Xiu – Ignore Grief

A challenging but vital return...

Has it really been two years since Xiu Xiu released their last album? It feels just like yesterday that I was sitting down and playing 2021’s ‘OH NO’ for the first time. In that time the world has seen plenty of turbulence. It has ground to a halt. Restarted. Then ground to a halt again. In a weird was this mirrors Xiu Xiu’s creative process. In the summer of 2021 Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo started work on their next long player. The process didn’t go smoothly. After a few restarts, a change of location, and line up additions, the band had completed their bravest, and most abrasive album to date. ‘Ignore Grief’ lives up to its harrowing name. 

‘Ignore Grief’ opens with the visceral and explosive ‘The Real Chaos Cha Cha Cha’. Seo delivers the lines: “Rolling off the yucca, a lesser crucifixion onto black berry thorns. He beat she too bad, what a God-awful wonder is Man”. You can tell straight away that not all is right with Xiu Xiu’s world view (as the world at large). As the distressing cacophony continues, the lyrics let us know we are in for an abstract and abrasive ride. And this is what Stewart, and Xiu Xiu, have always done best. When they are being lyrically vague. Not explicitly staring their point but hinting at it severely. They are showing us the grotesque nature of life. Reflected through a fun house mirror. The song ends with sparse vocals being overpowered by unrelenting percussion. It is more avant-garde now. Almost classical in its composition. You can’t really hear what is being said but you know it isn’t good.

‘666 Photos Of Nothing’ leans into the style of music Scott Walker perfected on ‘Tilt’ and ‘Bish Bosh’. The song opens with lots of noise. You have no real idea what it is going on. Then it all drops away. This is when the terror really takes hold. Over this Stewart delivers his most gut-wrenching vocal deliver of his career to date. Its part narrator, part torturer, part victim. 

Throughout the tracks are broken into two schools of song writing. One is slightly industrial songs. Massive drums. Swirling electronics. Glitches. Swaths of static and confusion. Seo is generally the prominent voice on these songs. The others are slightly more avant-garde in nature. Its more about emotion than storytelling. Stewart mostly handles the vocals on these ones. But the two do swap vocal duties from time to time. 

There is a part of me that takes perversive gee in knowing that there is a small selection of the band’s fan base that will be shocked by this album. The fans who got into them via ‘OH NO’ expecting another skewed pop masterpiece will be wildly disappointed. Casual fans of the more conventional albums ‘Always’, ‘Dear God, I Hate Myself’ or ‘Fabulous Muscles’ are in for a shock too. Those rich melodies and sing-along choruses are gone. And in their place are dank melodies, metallic percussion and stories of pain and loss. However, fans of ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’ will be lapping this up. The band push it even father here than they did in 2014. 

The album closes with ‘For M’. Here piercing synths, crashing percussion and portentous organs deliver but punch after gut punch. Under this Stewarts quiet vocals do their magic; the line “Roll a die, pick a hole” feels like a line from Twin Peaks: The Return with all the malevolent connotations that come with it.

When the album ends, the silence is deafening. Far more abrasive than anything contained on the album. This is because the album is an all-consuming beast. It dominates your attention, and senses. This isn’t a passive listening experience. You need to give it your full attention, otherwise you miss all the subtle, and unsubtle at times, nuances. Again and again since their formation in the early 2000s Xiu Xiu have delivered career defining moments. The first was 2003’s ‘A Promise’, then 2010s ‘Dear God, I Hate Myself’, 2014’s ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’ and 2021’s ‘OH NO’. On ‘Ignore Grief’ they’ve done it again as the album is the most powerful and uncompromising album they’ve ever released. It’s also one of their most playable. This is down to the dense music. Every time you listen you hear something new that gives the song a different context. This is the mark of a, and I use this word properly, class.

Throughout the album we are being asked to think about what we’d do in the situation. ‘For M’ clearly feels like its about the murder of a sex worker. Xiu Xiu seems to be asking us: “What would you do if you knew this was happening? Would you help or close the curtains?” And the answer is far more harrowing than anything contained on the album. Ignore grief indeed.


Words: Nick Roseblade

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