Words About Music
Xiu Xiu “Angel Guts: Red Classroom”
Xiu Xiu has released some of the most polarizing music of the past decade. Ever since the project’s debut “Knife Play” in 2002, there have been equally vocal supporters and opponents of Jamie Stewart and his collaborators. And, like many polarizing bands, there are obvious reasons. For one, Xiu Xiu does not make music that is friendly to the ears, even when they’re making music that is friendly in comparison to their not-so-friendly stuff. Secondly, Jamie Stewart’s singing voice is incredibly dramatic and not always appealing. He uses palpable sarcasm, sadness, and anger when he sings, and it’s just as creepy (and annoying to some) as it sounds. If you ask me, though, Xiu Xiu is a consistently great band, even though they’ve toned down their very brutal approach to music in recent years.
With their 9th album “Angel Guts: Red Classroom,” though, the toning down seems to have ceased. Xiu Xiu is back to its old self, combining old-school industrial with dramatic performances, noise, and a wide range of violent and sexual topics, from double suicides to double penetration. All this was inspired by Stewart’s move from North Carolina to a high crime area of Los Angeles. The violence he probably witnessed is documented in visceral detail on “Angel Guts,” and it makes for the band’s most scarring release since their debut.
Now, I wouldn’t call this album the band’s best. If anything, it sort of undoes all the progression the band has undergone since the early days of no-wave-influenced ultraviolent recordings. However, I will say that Stewart’s disturbed singing voice left very little to be desired on most tracks. While I can’t say I always find his voice at least fitting for the music, he definitely helps to give the album an atmosphere of over-the-top creepiness. What I would praise the band for on every song though is the instrumentation. The band opted mostly for analog synthesizers and drums, and with those instruments alone they gave the album the jarring terror that it would lack otherwise. The heavy distortion, the pig squeals, the hard-hitting drum sounds, the feedback noise; every bit comes together in shocking detail and even-more-shocking clarity.
Unfortunately, the instrumentation isn’t everything. And while I did like Jamie’s vocal performance and lyricism for the most part, a lot of the time it comes off as kind of, well, stupid. Take “Black Dick” for example. Just from the title you can tell that there’s really only one way that song could possibly go. And yes, there are several points on that song where he literally just repeats “black dick, black dick, black deeeiiiiiiick.” It’s not super annoying, but it does kind of feel like the kind of thing Jamie would do when he was a kid. It’s not something that can be taken especially seriously. Oh, there’s also when he compares two nipples to a volcano and baking soda. I don’t even know what to make of that.
For the most part, I think Jamie accomplished what he wanted to with “Angel Guts: Red Classroom.” While I don’t think he was as clear with his lyrics as I would’ve hoped, it was, at its worst, a good impression of 2002-2003 era Xiu Xiu and maybe a bad impression of latter-day Scott Walker. Like I said, the production and instrumentation saves it from being a bust, and it’s a good album for the most part, but I wouldn’t list it among my favorite Xiu Xiu albums. Maybe since this is being billed as “the death of Xiu Xiu” then he’ll reinvent himself next time around and do something for himself and not for people that wanted to hear the death of Xiu Xiu.
GRADE – 7.0
FAVORITE TRACKS – Stupid in the Dark, Lawrence Liquors, EL Naco, Adult Friends, The Silver Platter, Bitter Melon, A Knife in the Sun, Cinthya’s Unisex