FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2014 |
Posted by: Jake Saunders
There is a traditional formality of songwriting our ears have become oh so accustomed to that Jamie Stewart's Xiu Xiu has been challenging since 2002. Of course the band is not the first of the many avant garde groups who seek to tear down the structures of music, but they are unique in that they brush the surface of an accessible sound before taking it all away with their contrasting noise and static-ridden landscapes. Angel Guts: Red Classroom—inspired by and named after a 1979 erotic Japanese film, as well as Stewart's move from North Carolina to a crime-ridden neighborhood in L.A.—follows the ensemble's archive of dark and sinister imagery. We're given lyrical illustrations of double suicide, double penetration, and many other sexually and racially charged images. At many points, Stewart's vocals feel as if he is whispering directly into our ears; other times they are a faint warble in the distance. "What made you think life is special / When I look at you I see there is one life that is special / You don't need to live to love," he mutters on "New Life Immigration". On the album's second single, "Lawrence Liquors", we hear a desperate Stewart yelling, "SHUT UP!" over a chaotic landscape of menacing synths. But it's not just his vocals that produce this nightmarish and sinister mood throughout the record; industrial sounds and crescendos of noise and static personify bursts of emotions ranging from anger to despair and everything in between. Angel Guts: Red Classroom features less instrumentation compared to previous works, causing Stewart's lyrics to appear lonely and intimate, and add justification to the claim that this album is one of their bleakest to date.
Xiu Xiu seeks to go beyond a sonic representation of their concepts. The album is capped on both sides by ambient-noise tracks entitled "Angel Guts:", and the more assaulting ":Red Classroom" whose opposite colons give the album's track list its very own visual aspect. Stewart is also a writer and poet, with work published in multiple collections which you can view no their website.
Xiu Xiu is fearless, and the album almost seeks to make us cringe with discomfort as we saw with their video for "Stupid In The Dark", which features member Angela Seo bludgeoning a now-ex-boyfriend to death with a frying pan. A concept revolutionized by the many performance elements of David Bowie, and utilized by bands from The Flaming Lips to the cult-underground psych-electronic Black Moth Super Rainbow, with Angel Guts: Red Classroom Xiu Xiu is just one of many artists who utilize visuals and literary tricks to enhance the concepts being portrayed in the music.
Angel Guts: Red Classroom is out now on Polyvinyl.