Xiu Xiu – Always

written by: February 22, 2012
Release Date: February 28, 2012


In regard to Xiu Xiu’s new album, Always, the press has presented this album as a celebration for anyone who’s been a fan or supporter of Xiu Xiu throughout the 10 years the band has been sharing its strange, eclectic and creepy music with the world. It might be the most accessible record the band has made, while still retaining its style.

Most noise fans know that the shifts in Xiu Xiu songs could best be compared to a bi-polar meltdown from happy to sad or the dramatic shifts of character someone with a multiple personality disorder. One minute they are nice and soft with whispering and acoustic guitars, and the next, they are chainsaw-wielding psychos screaming about repressed childhood memories.

Always does have shifts like these, but they are approached in a more refined manner. There are still the abrasive samples, but there aren’t five-minute-long screeches with zero tonal or musical qualities. Most notably, the choruses in the songs on this album are catchy, minimal bursts of noise, just a trickle or trill from a piano or guitar at a time that channel this untouchable and unidentifiable mix of 1980s and melodramatic elements.

“Joey’s Song” is one of the gems on Always because the chorus has multiple instruments and sounds mixing at the same time in the expected chaos. There are soft, sickening pianos in back that are put through multiple filters that are shiny and glittery enough to sound like M83 or My Bloody Valentine. This is a new territory for the band that was a fruitful adventure forward into its sound.

“Honey Suckle” shows how after 10 years, Xiu Xiu only gets better at manipulating sounds in the studio each time members record an album. The chorus, “I get up, get up, but the day is ruined again,” doesn’t really freak any Xiu Xiu fan out compared with other lyrics. It actually sounds happy for a change. The little keyboard melody in the chorus is simple and easy like MGMT and Depeche Mode fighting over a keyboard with one finger each. This results in a response to the song that embraces the dark and abused imagery that Xiu Xiu is known for, but wears the scars with pride.

This is why the acoustic and solo songs with lots of silence and Jamie Stewart’s lead vocals are empty compared to the other things they did on Always. We’ve heard those slow “ballads” before. Yes, they are indicative of everything the band stands for, but they don’t have that same power that songs such as “Fabulous Muscles” did. That’s why songs like “Honey Suckle” and “Smear the Queen” with a focus on Angela Seo’s vocals are so impressive because of how well her deadpan, almost nonmusical singing is somehow so catchy.

The most impressive song and biggest testament to the fans on this album is “Born to Suffer.” This song starts with a strong, pulsing beat comparable to Knife Play’s “I Broke Up,” but instead of having compressed, piercing screamed segments in the chorus, the vocals are soft. Around the second chorus, the song gets loud and starts to have multiple explosions of sound in your ears. It builds up until it all dies down and Stewart whispers, “If God won’t come, I’ll go to him,” and then the electronics start to build their tempo into a club-style bass drop build-up, but it sounds so deliciously Xiu Xiu.

Stewart doesn’t really scream on this album nor have any lyrical spazz-outs, and it still all works for the better. Sadly, even the most die-hard Xiu Xiu fans have to admit that almost all the songs rotate through the same imagery and content lyrically, but a journey through sonic landscapes that play and challenges what qualifies as music is what many really expect to get out of Xiu Xiu.

This album seems to be the ’80s throwback to childhood memories that you expect from Xiu Xiu, but from a newer version of the typical perspective and point of view. It’s like the ’80s goth kids you always knew were inside Xiu Xiu finally grew up and didn’t need to give up their shtick because they found a way to make all the weird sounds they heard in their head make sense to someone else for the first time.

Xiu Xiu – Always tracklist:

  1. “Hi”
  2. “Joey’s Song”
  3. “Beauty Towne”
  4. “Honeysuckle”
  5. “I Luv Abortion”
  6. “The Oldness”
  7. “Chimneys Afire”
  8. “Gul Mudin”
  9. “Born to Suffer”
  10. “Factory Girls”
  11. “Smear the Queen”
  12. “Black Drum Machine”