Xiu Xiu’s latest and twelfth album, OH NO, was conceived in, and fuelled by the feelings conjured after a betrayal, lead singer/songwriter, James Stewart confesses.
As an album of duets, Stewart’s sonorous vocals – that linchpin all of Xiu Xiu’s output – return somewhat haphazardly accompanied by 15 select friends and peers. Sharon Van Etten, Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) and Chelsea Wolfe are some of the names that join Stewart and Angela Seo (who executes the production side) through a journey of collaboration and creation that Stewart expresses “helped remind me that the ratio of beautiful humans to shitty humans is more like 60/40 rather than what I have always assumed was 1/99”.
Throughout OH NO, Xiu Xiu remain unorthodox and unbound by the conventions that rule accessible, easily digestible, and often-predictable forms of musical offerings. As far from simplistic as possible, every track consists of multiple layers of dissonance that gloriously unify as one in some places, audible on ‘Saint Dymphna’ (featuring Twin Shadows’ George Lewis Jr), and ‘Sad Mezcalita’ (Van Etten). Or fracture and fall flat due to the forced and overbearing turbulence of noise in others, ‘It Bothers Me All The Time’ (Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater) being the most jarring example.
The void between melodic vocals and oscillating electronic backdrops allows for the feeling that something is missing to creep in. It’s as if the album has been written for a movie and the visual elements that would illustrate, anchor, and embellish each track have not be disclosed. As an album that embodies a dark, bleak, and comfortless aura, the most authentic and appeasing moments can be found in singles ‘Bottle of Rum’ (Liz Harris), one of Xiu Xiu’s most light-hearted and pop-leaning numbers to date, and ‘Rumpus Room’ (Angus Andrew); a twitchy, catchy, and pumped-up number.
For bands, sustaining a near twenty-year career normally requires either – (A) a dedicated fanbase composed of dads who wear Birkenstocks on the weekend (see Kings of Leon), (B) additions or deductions to the number of members in the band over said career (see Animal Collective) or (C) a touch of God (see Radiohead).
It remains to speculate what has sustained Xiu Xiu’s previous output thus far, perhaps their seemingly unwavering desire to remain outside the box. But as more and more artists embrace and experiment with melodramatic and grandiose styles of lyrical delivery paired with medleys of electronic and even classical atmospheres; it seems clear that OH NO has misplaced the fervour effect that such sensationalism should deliver. Leaving us merely confused and with a slight headache instead.
featured image: Julia Brokaw