The music loving public was treated in the second half of the ‘00s to mediocrity and somnambulism where the term “originality” was viciously slashed of any meaning. Bands and musicians were content to wallow in merely regurgitating the ideas of those before them and keeping their so-called art on a superficial level.
With one of the first releases in 2010, Xiu Xiu smashes all of this mediocrity and dive head first into the psyche with their seventh proper album Dear God, I Hate Myself.
This isn’t uncharted territory for Xiu Xiu. Mastermind and sole constant band member Jamie Stewart has been churning this out for a decade. There have been some great moments from “I Broke Up” on their first album Knife Play (“I’m going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle!”) and perhaps the greatest moment of release in music history in “Apistat Commander” off of A Promise. While there have been some misses especially with the minimalist mess of La Foret the last two uneven releases The Air Force and Women As Lovers saw them hone their craft.
And in Dear God, I Hate Myself, Xiu Xiu perfectly synthesize all the beauty and horror of the psyche with their experimental brand of music to create a warm blanket for those who cannot be merely content with the pop superficiality.
The music itself is everything one expects with Xiu Xiu – the incidental noises and clangs layered on pop songs. While the effect has been jarring in the past, perhaps with the departure of longtime collaborator Caralee McElroy, addition of Angela Seo and the production of Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier have reined things in a little bit.
Saunier has made his artistic career in the deconstruction of pop music with Deerhoof, and in this album there isn’t so much deconstruction going on rather than piecing things back together. It’s a patchwork of sounds that has some pop sensibilities but still jar the listener. The noises aren’t incidental but integral to the overall music. The noises merge with the traditional instrumentation to create a lush soundscape that envelops the words and the desperate intensity in Jamie Stewart’s voice.
True Xiu Xiu takes their cues from Morrissey and Joy Division even referencing Morrissey directly in “This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)”: “Listen, Steven is singing to you / The pain of life you wipe away.” Just like Morrissey crooned to the disenfranchised teenagers since the 80s, Stewart provides a place of solace for the freaks. However Stewart takes it one step further painting pictures of self loathing in the title track, the unbearable pressure growing up in a Korean household in “Hyunhye’s Theme” and escaping a pedophile serial killer in “House Sparrow”.
The synthesis of all of this can be dismissed as shock for shock’s sake or blabbering uber-emo histrionics, however that misses the intricate beauty and horror of Xiu Xiu. It’s not the stuff of Smiths’ songs, but as bleak as the songs and imagery are there is a ray of optimism and humor that comfort.