On Angel Guts: Red Classroom, a full-length release that falls somewhere in the double digits of their discography, progressive art-rockers Xiu Xiu boldly shy away from convention.
If one is at all familiar with the band’s repertoire, “convention” probably doesn’t paint an accurate enough picture of Xiu Xiu’s esoteric, angst-ridden industrial-electronica. Yet this release pushes Xiu Xiu’s brand of New Wave experimental even further into alienation, challenging listeners with some of the most macabre and unsettling content thus far.
Angel Guts: Red Classroom alternately embraces and molests our notions of discomfort in its psychotic arms.
The album roils with disharmony. Xiu Xiu brandishes sharpened synthesizers like machetes, clearing the way deeper and deeper on a descent into a forest of madness.
Rarely does music do such a thorough job of blocking serotonin receptors and relegating listeners to a doomed ennui.
Save for a couple of more upbeat peaks in this looming mountain range of at-times-excessive tonal friction, the majority of the record swings on a downward arc, illuminating twisted visions in caverns on the path to the belly of the beast.
“I see it and I have no right to see it/I don’t even know what it is…/This might be the last time we ever feel love,” singer Jamie Stewart chokes out maniacally on “El Naco.” This track is a premiere example of how expertly Xiu Xiu can craft discomfort through masterful use of dissonance and spacing.
The song opens with distant church chimes plucking a lead that moves you to the edge of your seat, only to be elaborated on by atonal samples and a rising beehive of goosbump-inducing electronic fuzz.
A similar cataclysm of noise and ache are constructed on “A Knife in the Sun,” which crawls along the ground at funeral procession tempo. It’s unclear whether Stewart believes that the listeners are inching their way to a final resting place, or if they already reside in the land of the condemned.
Shrugging off taboo subject matter, Stewart proudly waxes poetic about psychosexual and violent musings.
His vampiric vibrato resonates as if broadcasted through an old radio, patched through direct from Transylvania. “Adult Friends,” which features ghastly samples of a squealing pig, conjures an aged portrait of the band corralling its mad carnival around a candle-lit alter.
Though the over-the-top noir of Angel Guts suggests a certain degree of injected shock-value, the band does pony up some seemingly impassioned melodies, like the synthesizer that lays the foundation for “Botanica de Los Angeles.”
The grisly chops and genuinely affecting horror-movie bits represent a real sense of urgency to communicate whichever level of Hell the songwriters feel trapped in. Those willing to delve into the cryptic lyrics and occult-leaning sonic textures will be rewarded will a surprising degree of relatability.
For new listeners to Xiu Xiu, plumbing the depths of its voluminous catalogue for a more accessible album to start with would be a wise choice. However, for devoted fans or those sound in resolve and not faint of heart, Angel Guts: Red Classroom is a lively tutorial from a band well versed in cultivating an ominous experience.
Xiu Xiu: Angel Guts: Red Classroom tracklist:
- “Angel Guts”
- “Archie’s Fades”
- “Stupid in the Dark”
- “Lawrence Liquors”
- “Black Dick”
- “New Life Immigration”
- “El Naco”
- “Adult Friends”
- “The Silver Platter”
- “Bitter Melon”
- “A Knife in the Sun”
- “Cinthya’s Unisex”
- “Botanica de Los Angeles
- “Red Classroom”