Xiu Xiu are not the easiest band in the world to listen to. The frank honesty of Jamie Stewart’s lyrics and the haunting vocal delivery allows the broaching of taboo subjects to sound earnest, and as far away from gimmicky as possible.
On opening number ‘Hi’, Stewart takes a direct approach with the opening line “If you’re wasting your life, say hi/If you’re alone tonight, say hi”. Alongside Angela Seo, Bettina Escauriza, Marc Riordan and Devin Hoff, the band continue to push the boundaries to create innovative and interesting sounds for the disturbing issues on display here.
Track 5, ‘I Luv Abortion’, sees Stewart tackle the issues surrounding abortion to what could possibly only be considered as schizophrenic synth-pop, with an incredibly harrowing vocal performance of lyrics like ‘When the time is right, I’ll love you like I should/When the time is right, come back, come back, come back’. Counter this with the slow, almost graceful elegance of the following track ‘The Oldness’ and you have an interesting mix.
However, the accolade of the stand out track has to go to ‘Factory Girls.’ Vulnerable vocals mixed with a rich, multi-tonal sound that works fantastically integrating itself at various moments throughout the song and creates a wondrous piece, but one that could be considered almost preachy on the subject of Vietnamese factory workers.
‘Smear The Queen’ sees a heavily electronic approach that features dual vocals from Jamie and Angela, adding a depth and human element to the track which lightens the almost oppressive feeling of dread through the entire album (and note I said lightens, this is pretty dark stuff). Always is an album that switches between sparse beauty and multi-layered trickery, managing to display engaging and interesting lyrics alongside thought provoking music. Xiu Xiu are never going to be a band that crosses into the mainstream populous, but that’s what’s great about them. Their individuality and creativity allows them to push the boundaries and approach things that very few other bands could even consider. Genius.
Words by Emily Solan
‘Always’ is out on Monday on Bella Union