Boiling with manic depressive energy, Xiu Xiu returns to the experimental rock and punk scene with their eighth studio album, “Always.” Frontman and founder Jamie Stewart made a name for himself and his band with their angst-filled lyrics and riotous music. Xiu Xiu has never been good at pleasing the masses, and this album is no different. The band often polarizes their listeners with Stewart’s crooning, trembling vocals enveloped by Angela Seo’s cacophonous drum beats.
What set “Always” apart from previous albums are Stewart’s daredevil lyrics on modern day topics. As a songwriter, Stewart never shied away from controversy and often used shock-value in penning his songs. Even though certain topics have become more highly sensitive due to the ever-changing political and cultural landscape, Xiu Xiu certainly threw in their own opinions amidst roaring instrumentals and Stewart’s sorrowful vocals.
“Smear the Queen” and “The Oldness” are chock-full of Xiu Xiu’s signature style, with “Smear the Queen” painting visual imagery of gore and violence common in Xiu Xiu’s music, and “The Oldness” utilizing heart-wrenching piano to incite a certain feelings of hopelessness and despair with its listeners. Drummer Angela Seo’s voice is featured most prominently in “Joey’s Song,” the only track on the album that features a catchy chorus and consistent instrumentals, and will definitely become a fast favorite amongst fans. Others like “Factory Girl” and “Honey Suckle” are reminiscent of the electro-pop feel of their previous album “Dear God, I Hate Myself,” complete with video-game noises and obscene lyrics.
“Always” boasts two uncomfortable and visually disturbing tracks: “I Luv Abortion” and “Gul Mudin.” The former is Stewart and Seo’s bold opinion on one of the hottest topics right now. However, despite their efforts to piss off right-wing Americans, the lyrics “when I look at my thighs I see death” and “you are too good for this life/a hyena infected with rabies would give birth to you” render even the most ardent pro-choice listeners troubled and feeling queasy. Xiu Xiu excels at obscenities and they seem to specialize in pushing the envelope when it comes to their lyrics. The two minute 30 second track “Gul Mudin” is a blatant reference to the American soldiers in Afghanistan who murdered and mutilated civilians, posed with the corpses and kept body parts as trophies. The track title is also the name of the 15-year-old boy killed by two of the soldiers. Despite Stewart’s trademark tremulous vocals, the alarming lyrics are sung with clarity to make sure the listeners do not simply pass this off as another depressing song off the album.
Xiu Xiu stayed true to their roots, bringing forth yet another album infused with one morbid song after another. For those wanting a feel-good album, this is not it. Xiu Xiu has never made music for the faint of heart, and they’re not about to start any time soon.