Xiu Xiu - Always | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret
Xiu Xiu - Always

Xiu Xiu


A pale imitation of a band with something vital to say.

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Author: on April 4, 2012
March 6, 2012

It’s strange that a band once revered for their consistent articulation of the unusual has in time become a little too predictable. A bizarre turn, too, following the excellent Dear God, I Hate Myself (2010) – a record that saw the generally abrasive band take a decidedly softer turn to excellent ends. Lead singer/lyricist/beating-heart Jamie Stewart is still a deliberately challenging artist albeit uncommonly uplifting. While lyrically his music is always bitter – and at times even quite frightening – Xiu Xiu more often than not find a gorgeous stone buried way down in the muddy depths.

Fabulous Muscles was probably the band’s greatest triumph with regard to accessibility and emotional impact, though Stewart has remained absurdly consistent over the years. I’m curious, then, as to why this new LP of theirs secretes such a virulent taste. Always, like most Xiu Xiu records, is an “introspective” examination of turbulent personas on the part of Stewart, alongside a healthy dose of personal dissection. Think: attempts at suicide, victims of abuse or bullying, socioeconomic exodus; the emotionally disenfranchised have long been a centrepiece of Xiu Xiu’s songwriting and that does nothing to change here, as if the blunt song title “I Luv Abortion” didn’t already give that away. And even though the song’s lyrical content is of standard Xiu substance – a friend of Stewart’s chose to abort out of a parenting fear – it comes off as just plain goofy. It’s disheartening, as moments like these were what had made Xiu Xiu so captivating and intensely personal; now it’s kind of just a noisy post-punk song with a deep voice at the forefront.

Maybe it is because Stewart has been so consistent for so long, or perhaps there’s just a limited number of times one can “go pop” before it loses the luster. It is safe to assume that two records in a row of the same shtick could sour the whole experience. Safer still to assert that “Beauty Towne” and “Black Drum Machine” are kind of rehashes of past works “Clowne Towne” and “Black Keyboard” respectively. It also doesn’t help that Stewart has written a song seemingly about debating suicide during an earthquake in Haiti, entitled “Born to Suffer” – some weird pastiche of various trappings Xiu Xiu once made sound so gripping, destructive and essential.

Simply put: Always sounds like a parody of itself, a band attempting to be true to themselves yet inexplicably appearing a knock-off. For anyone familiar with Stewart’s particular form of electronic post-punk, you very well may find nothing of interest here – he has done this before to better excess. First time dipping your toes in? Tread lightly: this avant-garde outfit have made much more compelling music.

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