Forget is the 13th album from Jamie Stewart’s long running Art / Experimental Rock project, Xiu Xiu, and serves as a glaring reminder to the sounds that made me fall in love with the project in the first place. I think the best way I’m able to describe Xiu Xiu is if you were to imagine them as Joy Division, The Smiths and Throbbing Gristle collaborating to cover Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” but extended to thirteen studio albums and several miscellaneous noise albums.
They’re a very hard band to grasp as a lot of their input happens to be very intense and incredibly depressive – most of it is due to Jamie’s deeply personal lyrics coupled with very rough subject matters and an instrumental section that can be absolutely terrifying at times.
I had lost interest in the project after 2012’s Always failed to make much of an impact on me but they caught me off guard with 2014’s Angel Guts: Red Classroom – a surprisingly fun and absurdly eccentric album that calls back to the sound of albums like Knife Play and A Promise. I was eagerly waiting for a follow up to “Angel Guts” but then they completely surprised me again with their absolutely stunning re-interpretation of Angelo Badalementi’s soundtrack to Twin Peaks which just happened to be my favourite album of last year and only made me more excited to see what they were going to do next.
The album opens up with The Call, a very atmospheric track that sounds like it wouldn’t have sounded out of context on their breakout album, Fabulous Muscles. The track features a very odd recurring sample of a flamboyant man insulting the listener that is topped off Jamie’s trademark vocal styling while being drenched in reverb, giving you a hint of the atmosphere you’re going to hear throughout the album. The track is almost upbeat and features a very familiar sound and feeling to the more accessible tracks on their earlier releases.
The album continues with Queen of the Losers, a fantastic track that features a chaotic sounding mix of crashing drums, high pitched samples, a distressing synth lead and eccentric vocals that almost segways into something reminiscent of a dream pop song by the chorus whilst retaining the chaotic instrumentation that caught me off guard at the start. The repeating chorus of “everyone loves you, the pain has just begun” is almost gorgeous due to Jamie’s atmospheric low vocals that are drenched in reverb with brilliantly produced electronics added to the mix. Wondering was the first single from the album and features Cristoph Hahn of Swans on lap steel and is easily one of the best songs the album has to offer. It’s a stunning synthpop track with a wonderful chord progression, gorgeous choir-like vocals and a lap steel sound that sounds like a squealing pig trying to escape an abattoir. The song serves as a reminder of why I fell in love with Xiu Xiu in the first place and I seriously hope they do more tracks of this style in the future.
Get Up, is by far my favourite track off of the album and one of my favourite Xiu Xiu songs ever. It opens with a slow guitar progression with Jamie detailing a different array of instruments falling on his face and relating it to a tragic story of abuse. The song is really quite slow and concise but repeatedly builds as the vocals get higher and much more emotional before rising and rising to a stunning crescendo that completely blew me away the first time I heard it. It’s a song that’s on par with other Xiu Xiu songs like Apistat Commander, and their cover of Julee Cruise’s Falling as being some of the best material they’ve ever put out.
The second half of the album balances itself being eccentric and really quite harrowing; Jenny GoGo and the album’s title track feature progressions that Xiu Xiu haven’t really touched on in years and are definite highlights and that’s probably due to the vocals alone if I’m really being honest. The closing track, Faith, Torn Apart is very odd as it features a sample of what I assume to be a Middle-Eastern woman singing a few notes over and over combined with clashing drums, synths and a return of the almost choir-like vocal stylings heard earlier on the album. The last four minutes of the song are very odd and uncomfortable as it features Jamie vividly describing what I’m assuming to be an escort in a voice that is imitating the character he’s created – it actually reminds me a lot of the themes of abuse, prostitution, human trafficking and general unhappiness that were explored on previous releases and it just leaves me with a very cold and bitter feeling that I can’t even begin to describe.
Forget is the most atmospheric album (of original material, mind you) Xiu Xiu have made and it’s probably their most gorgeous as far as the music and general feeling of the record is concerned. It is a definite return to form after a slew odd synthpop albums and I really hope that they continue on with what they’re doing now, albeit in a different context, and they might come through with an album that’ll top this one; but until then, who are we to know?