Xiu Xiu – Always

To be avant-garde is to be experimental, radical and daring in ways that exceed the limit of what is known as “normal”. What would that sound like? Xiu Xiu’s new album Always. Xiu Xiu is the stage name for the Californian experimental duo consisting of Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo.

What makes this new album stand out more than the last is the cry for help is more distraught. The first track “Hi” may sound like a lovely start to an album until the lyrics are heard more closely: “If you’re wasting your life say hi / If there’s a hole in your head say hi / If when you look at the sky it is black and shredded.” Always starts off with a shout-out to all of those who are so far gone into depression that there is no chance of revival. From the first second of “Hi” the music starts with a quick beat. The following track “Joey’s Song” starts in a hurried manner using chamber vocals and a clicking beat, which combine to produce a suspenseful sound. The chorus for “Joey’s Song” has a more uplifting feel to it even though the lyrics create an apathetic edge “As long as you know I am waiting / Fever crams the skin of Joey’s song.”

Jamie Stewart’s voice does the album wonders. His voice has a mysterious appeal that is haunting and memorable without the need of extra echoes for effect. The fourth track “Honey-Suckle” starts with a single note as well as the innocent and raw vocals of Angela Seo. The use of her vocals softens the song. The album does take a swift turn in mood when the fifth track begins. “I Luv Abortion”; the name itself is enough to cause a cringe-worthy response. This track explores a peculiar view of abortion, confusing at first until the lyrics are read into and seems to be excusing themselves for aborting with good intentions: “Little sweetest glob / The restrictions is gone / The worries is gone / When the time is right I will love you like I should / When I look at my thighs I see death it is great / I love abortion / You are too good for this life.” Abortion is always a tricky subject in terms of right and wrong. Is it even possible to have good intentions when it comes to abortion? That is just one of the possible questions Xiu Xiu may be exploring in this track. Right after the most harrowing track is a gentle piano lullaby. “The Oldness” is a track so tender that is amplified by Jamie Stewart’s trembling voice. The track takes a break from fast beats and slows down the pace of the album. Always does pick up the beat again but it is more down-tempo than the beginning of the track.

Unlike most albums where the beats are up and down throughout the album or where it starts slow then picks up towards the end of the album, Always starts with fast beats and slows down drastically in the middle. Sure, the album may be distressing in certain tracks but there is a message of hope in an unusual manner. Then again would they be called an avant-garde band if they did it any other way?
by Kristina Dias

March 11th 2012
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