20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews Xiu Xiu’s Dear God, I Hate Myself by ambiguitron

Xiu Xiu's latest release is a virtuoso freakshow of sound and rhythm.

PREVIEW: VISIT Xiu Xiu’s Myspace
WE GIVE IT: 16/20 Watts

The unique thing about Xiu Xiu‘s sound is just how damaged it feels. Not damaged in the sense of recording quality, but rather damaged in the emotional, even spiritual feeling of their songs. With Xiu Xiu, nothing is ever safe or stable. One could say that the group sounds like how post-traumatic stress disorder feels.

From their self-deprecating lyrics to the haunting moan of Jamie Stewart’s vocals, all of the tracks on Xiu Xiu’s latest release, Dear God, I Hate Myself evoke the sensation of a person who is desperately trying to hold himself together, only to inevitably collapse back in on himself for the hundredth time.

The first four tracks of the album all possess driving, steady house beats overlaid with dissonant sound textures. Coupled with the group’s vocal hysteria, these elements blend together to suggest that such openers are a clownish parody of modern dance music. On “Chocolate Makes You Happy,” the lyrics speak of bulimia, ignorance and hyper-sexuality alongside a faux-uplifting melody that all the minor chords in the world could not come close to matching the true misery of.

The next section of the album brings the energy level down for more solemnly avant-garde ballads like “Hyunhye’s Theme.” While they explore tamer dynamic ranges, even the calmest tracks remain punctuated with tortured screams of various string instruments in misuse. Following the album’s surprisingly poppy titular song, the tempo picks back up for the schizophrenic synths of “Secret Motel,” which could be described partially as Dan Deacon minus the cheer. Then, for a moment of comic relief, the band covers American folk song “Cumberland Gap,” taking an intermission from the album’s bizarro despair to showcase a minute and a half of lighthearted bluegrass dabbling. The album finishes with “Impossible Feeling,” a coup-de-tat of rhythmic frenzy that leaves the listener with one hauntingly ambiguous message. “Cover your face/in the shroud of impossible feeling.”

Xiu Xiu never surrenders to any kind of genuine normalcy. Their songs are always tales of unhappiness attempting to sell themselves as happiness, insanity attempting to masquerade as sanity or other impossible binaries. On both the sonic and lyrical levels, Xiu Xiu’s latest work speaks of a hysterical, incurable sense of contradiction. And yet, there is still a beauty in the way Xiu Xiu remains impeccably precise in creating songs that are essentially manically flawed tributes to human imprecision.

–Dan Powell

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