Xiu Xiu are a weird band. It seems a simple thing to say, but there’s no other way to put it. After all, this is a band that has crafted an experimental noise piece out of sampling 999 vibrators vibrating against a copper statue – a link for any disbelievers – and a surprisingly creative cover album of music from Twin Peaks. They’ve also been a band continually on the edge of greatness, with Fabulous Muscles and A Promise both being potential noise rock masterpieces – if it weren’t for the weirdness dragging them down. FORGET isn’t that masterpiece as it doesn’t contain the same flashes of brilliance of those two albums – it is however, heavily consistent and only slightly weird.
Xiu Xiu have never been more accessible than they are on FORGET. Do not however, mistake more accessible for commercial friendly. Though they’ve never been closer to pop than they are here, they’re not exactly content with making their own weird off-brand of pop music easy to digest. The typical lyrical themes of Xiu Xiu, such as religion, uncertainty, depression, and sex show up in typical confrontational forms. Like most Xiu Xiu records, there are also some fairly dissonant moments throughout FORGET, but they’re few and far between. More than any other Xiu Xiu record, FORGET uses noise to find beauty as opposed to challenging listeners. There is never a moment during my listening then where I feel the need to turn down the volume because it’s simply too harsh (something I can’t say about a lot of other Xiu Xiu records).
Naming their latest release FORGET was a bit of a bold move for Xiu Xiu as it runs the risk of opening itself up to many snarky quips from potential detractors. The name however, is key to the sound of the album. Though not a complete departure from their sound (which has always been varied), the title is urging listeners to forget any preconceptions they might have about the group. The fact that opener “The Call” begins with a hyper aggressive rap verse, something which would’ve been previously unthinkable in a Xiu Xiu track, illustrates this. Even by Xiu Xiu’s standards, “The Call” is an oddity, especially with its repetitious call to “clap, bitches.” It is this contrast with their previous material however, that makes “The Call” a distinctly Xiu Xiu track. They’ve never been afraid of pursuing new sounds or packing as many different sounds as they can into a single album – an aspect still present in FORGET.
For example, “Jenny GoGo” is a menacing piece of post-punk dance, something that wouldn’t sound out of place in a dance club in hell. Meanwhile, “Wondering” is an impeccably crafted pop song that might’ve found some commercial success if it weren’t for hopeless lyricism (“There’s not a chance, there’s never been/ … shock of ash upon hope and peace”). Album standout “Petite” is as intimate as Xiu Xiu have ever been as it finds vocalist Jamie Stewart crooning with nothing but a violin and the gentle strums of a guitar to support him. Final track “Faith, Torn Apart” is also a deeply uncomfortable cut that ends with Stewarts reciting a poem that he composed about the first things that came to his mind while viewing pictures of escorts.
In short, all the eccentricities to be expected on a Xiu Xiu record are present in FORGET. The eccentricities however, are more focused, with a slight gloss of dance present on practically every track. Xiu Xiu’s call to “clap, bitches” isn’t just for show; it sincerely sounds like they want their listeners to get up, dance, and have some sweet nihilistic fun. In this, FORGET is unique. While Xiu Xiu have always experimented with pop and electronica, never before have the two meshed so seamlessly together then here. This is dance, twisted and manipulated to fit Xiu Xiu’s own idea of a party: a hedonistic, primal romp with a prevailing sense of dread for the coming morning.
FORGET is not only a good addition to Xiu Xiu’s ever growing catalogue of work, but it’s also an excellent entry point for new listeners. It may sound nothing like their previous album, Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, but FORGET is intriguing and accessible enough to convince any new listeners from their cover album to stick around. This is because the album is a collection of great, only slightly experimental tracks. Despite this, this toned-down eccentricity may be the very thing that will turn long-time listeners away.
As mentioned before, Xiu Xiu’s weirdness has continually kept them on the edge of greatness. It may also be the very thing that has pushed them to that edge, always pulling them back before they can take the plunge. While there are no extremely abrasive or heavily off-putting moments on FORGET, there is also no point in the album that quite reaches the highest heights of their best works. Their eccentricity, it appears, is a double-edged sword, both allowing for and undermining their best work. Here, Xiu Xiu have decided to dull their blade for a slightly more controlled approach and though their swing isn’t quite as biting as it once was, the sacrifice is still rather minimal. While the most adamant Xiu Xiu fans may not find it to be as weird or challenging as they expect, FORGET is a very immediate, confident, and cohesive record.
Ultimately, FORGET is the sound of a famed boundary breaking band opting to merely bend the boundaries and while some may take issue with a band as frantic as Xiu Xiu finally settling down, there is one thing they cannot disagree with: FORGET is, undeniably, Xiu Xiu.
FORGET was released February 24th through Polyvinyl Records. The album can be found in full here.