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Xiu Xiu - La Forêt

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Artist: Xiu Xiu

Album: La Forêt

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Jun. 29, 2005

As I was getting to know Xiu Xiu's last record, Fabulous Muscles, I thought of it as their weirdest album. Now that I'm getting to know La Forêt, I again feel like their latest is also their oddest.

This may not mean that their music is getting progressively stranger. What it probably means is that the process of getting to know a Xiu Xiu album takes a long time, because much of their music is based on apparent opposites. They love huge blasts of distortion, but also moments of extreme quiet and fragility; they write great pop melodies but obscure them with noise, unusual arrangements and odd song structures. Other factors getting in the listener's way include Jamie Stewart's mannered, breathy vocals - which sometimes sound like a less female, less ridiculous Tori Amos - and his dark, direct lyrics.

La Forêt contains a few lines like "You became a faggot / Dressed like a bunny / Beating off nonstop / To the escort pages," but generally, the lyrics are less shocking than on any of Xiu Xiu's previous albums. Still, the album features a number of Xiu Xiu lyrical trademarks: depictions of ugly, sexually charged situations ("It smells like Fallujah, a hammock rod / This shirt clings like dander / This kiss scrapes like rust"); bitter descriptions of others ("Jesus is wondering / If even He can love you"); and bizarre, specific details ("She won't cuddle up to your disgusting feet / She's not the only one who won't / Your Game Cube is on").

Stewart's lyrics are odd, but his delivery makes them even odder. Stewart - who sounds emotional to the point of tears even when his vocals are quiet, and downright out of control when they're loud - never gives any hint that he thinks what he's singing is strange.

Musically, too, Xiu Xiu invest their oddest choices with such drama that it's hard not to take them seriously. La Forêt isn't nearly as overtly poppy as Fabulous Muscles was, but it's just as well written. "Baby Captain" begins with a verse that's all acoustic guitar, pregnant pauses and whispery vocals; the verses that follow include ugly, cheap-sounding electronics that sound somewhat extraneous at first, but with repeated listens, they're reminiscent of the fragility of music boxes. "Rose of Sharon" is similar, in a way: the song is arranged around drones for harmoniums and strings, and the plinks of distorted synths that interrupt them initially sound out of place. After the drones continue and Stewart's vocal becomes more impassioned, it becomes clear that the noisy electronics served to emphasize the differences between the sections before and after them.

Anyway, without boring you too much by describing small moments, my point is this: La Forêt's strangest parts are hard to dismiss as intentionally distracting or whimsical. It's also the quietest of the band's four albums of new music - although it also has a couple of uptempo songs ("Muppet Face" and "Bog People") with the potential to become fan favorites along the lines of "Apistat Commander" or "Crank Heart." Another bizarre, wonderful addition to the Xiu Xiu discography.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Other Reviews of Xiu Xiu

Chapel of the Chimes

Fabulous Muscles

The Air Force

Dear God, I Hate Myself


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View all articles by Charlie Wilmoth

Find out more about 5 Rue Christine

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