When you listen back through an artist’s back catalogue you normally pick out a running theme. Whilst I listen through the previous 11 releases of Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu project, less of a band more of a revolving door for the gifted and outcast, the thing that stood out was the beauty of the music. Even if the times were hard. Yes, it was peppered were brutalist motifs but there is always a beauty to it. Sometimes it’s that of a fuzzy memory of childhood crush, or a broken beauty, like Jackie Kennedy during JFK’s funeral, but there it is a beauty to the music.
This theme is carried on with Xiu Xiu’s 12th album ‘OH NO’. As with previous album Stewart has worked with a who’s who of musicians, but there is on subtle difference. Each track features a duet with Stewart and a guest who has made an impact on him musically and personally.
Sharon Van Etten, Drab Majesty, Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr, Liz Harris, Alice Bag, Chelsea Wolfe, Susanne Sachsse, Angela Seo, Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, Shearwater, Owen Pallet, Liars and Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr all feature. It’s one hell of a list. Looking at them all written down it feels even more impressive. The results are a mixture of merriment and misery.
The album opens with Van Etten on ‘Sad Mezcalita’ with understated grace and the line “What are you doing there so anxious to be liked?”. This line sets up the whole album. It asks us to question why we are listening? Is it to appear cool, or because we like the music? The faux-operatic vocals by Stewart and Fohr shows a more romantic side to Xiu Xiu than we’ve seen for a while, if not ever.
The standout track is ‘Goodbye For Good’ which features Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, who also produced the album with Lawrence English, Greg Saunier & Angela Seo. The track is one of the most experimental on the album. Huge swaths of noise bombard Steward and Saunier, like stranded sailors on a tiny island during a storm.
Not since 2016’s ‘Plays The Music From Twin Peaks’ have I been swept up by a Xiu Xiu album like this. From the opening moments to its last it engulfs the listener. Taking us with it on its surging journey. In recent years Xiu Xiu have released some powerful music but ‘Oh No’ is the strongest album since 2012’s ‘Always’.
This definitely is beautiful music for hard times.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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