As engagingly weird as anything before it, but this flows so much better.
Alex Tudor 2010
Way back when, Kurt Cobain was denied an album title much like Xiu Xiu’s on the grounds of damaging sales. Mega-sales aren’t a problem for Jamie Stewart, however, who has in the past made being an Ian Curtis and Morrissey fan into an artform, while ensuring the music never becomes too easy on the ear. As ever, Stewart veers from acoustic singer-songwriter fare (albeit hyperbolically self-lacerating) to rough-edged electro-rock reminiscent of Joy Division on the cusp of becoming New Order (think also: early singles by The Associates, and The Human League before they became pop monstrosities).
The opener, Gray Death, is an instant new favourite, with a strident refrain (“beat! Beat! Beat! Beat to death…”) and alternating solos for phased guitar and reverbed piano, all as massively catchy as Smashing Pumpkins, but with gritty production. Chocolate Makes You Happy maintains the pace, but brings in chirpily naïve keyboard lines much like The Cure undercutting their own epic-gothery with a Lovecats or The Walk. Thing is, Xiu Xiu have another three decades of sounds / apps / plug-ins to play with, meaning that the menagerie of robot animals frolicking in the background variously sound like entire pieces by Autechre or Matmos (that’d be new synth-player and programmer Angela Seo, and various members of Deerhoof guesting).
Slowing down toward the record’s middle, for Hyunhye’s Theme, Stewart picks out a delicate guitar motif while championing a hard-working Asian girl, but there’s no slowdown in creativity: instruments snuffle and plink like a barn at night, before overwhelming the song with riotous cacophony. In a sense, that’s the whole aesthetic: the title-track has a killer hook, and grabs your heartstrings with its mournful synth organ, but all the other sounds are determined to subvert the song’s prettiness and (potentially) cheap emotion.
After seven albums and various EPs, Dear God… is as engagingly weird as anything before, but flows so much better by incorporating the customary sonic terrorism into verse-chorus-verse songs, rather than breaking off for performance poetry about living in the shadow of suicide, or (say) war as legitimate barbarism for jocks. Nevertheless, the limited edition LP comes with a T-shirt decorated with real blood. With it out on February 15th, it’s an ideal Valentine’s present for the deviant in your life.