Critical darlings and chronic avant-gardists Xiu Xiu (pronounced Shoe-Shoe) have come out with a new album, Girl With Basket of Fruit, which may well be their most out-there material yet, showing influences from bands such as Sun City Girls, This Heat, and Coil. Xiu Xiu formed in 2002 as the main artistic project of their only consistent member Jamie Stewart after his former band, Ten in the Swear Jar, disbanded. Xiu Xiu are known for writing music that explores challenging themes like suicidality, sexual abuse, and LGBT identity in very challenging ways. Xiu Xiu came to prominence in 2003 with the release of A Promise, written in reaction to the suicide death of Stewart’s father. 2004’s Fabulous Muscles would elevate the band into a staple of early 2000s experimental, alongside the likes of Radiohead, Animal Collective, and Boris.

 

Xiu Xiu are joined this time by Swans alumni Thor Harris, who lends his bombastic percussion skills to their repertoire of Stewart’s trademark theatrical vocal work and that chimera of electronica, noise, and rock instrumentation that makes the bulk of their signature sound. I have to applaud Harris on this release, the work he does marks a significant departure from his own work on the recent Swans trilogy, as well as Xiu Xiu’s 2017 release Forget. Harris’ percussion laser focuses and underscores Xiu Xiu’s sound with his driving beats and ominous pounding. As with most things in a Xiu Xiu release, attention is paid to the timbre of this drumming, I don’t think that a traditional rock drum kit makes an appearance anywhere on Girl With Basket of Fruit.

 

As usual, Jamie Stewart’s vocal work is dynamic and dramatic. Stewart takes a clear influence from artists such as Scott Walker (after 1995) in the warbling, breathy, pained timbre of his singing, as well as Lou Reed, and Alan Vega for the for the way each tells stories in their lyricism and spoken word. This is quite the cadre of influences to have, all are exceptional, but it is one thing to state perceived influences and quite another to actually hear Stewart sing, his voice and artistic talent is all his own. Oscillating between obscene, outraged, and tender frequently, it is the perfectly cast over the top of the band’s chaotic contortions of the pop song formulae.

 

Stewart’s lyricism is as confronting as ever, there are some choice phrases used here, none of which I want to spoil for you, the shock is part of the listening. Just know that they are on a par with “Fabulous Muscles”’ “Cremate me after you cum on my lips / Honey boy / place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench”, which is traumatic to listen to even on the best of days. Decontextualized like that the “Fabulous Muscles” verse looks like a joke, it is not, it is delivered with all the sincerity and solemnity of a funeral director. If you are willing to take such lyricism seriously, Stewart will provide you with all the complicated feelings in the world.

 

Which is another thing worth mentioning. Xiu Xiu is at fundament a pop band. They may be weird, and experimental, having at one time used the Nintendo DS music software of all things as a major component to their sound,[1] but their music is never too unfamiliar or repulsive for you not to bop your head along, or to not be drawn in by the emotions on display. Xiu Xiu may not be for everyone, some may be turned off by the subject matter of their material, which make no mistake is not comforting listening, but I don’t think that anyone could deny their position as one of the most exciting and serious artistic projects in music right now given that they actually give the band a chance. If you’re up for a challenge, give this one a shot.

 

9/10

[1] No I am not kidding. The album Dear God I Hate Myself is where Xiu Xiu started using a DS. This information is provided to you (provided that this footnote does not get omitted at the editing stage) that on the off chance you might want to listen to such a thing, you can. Yes, the photos of Stewart brandishing DS in one hand, drumstick in aggressive downbeat in the other are hilarious to look at.