Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dear God, I Hate Myself - Xiu Xiu

Dear God, I Hate Myself

Xiu Xiu
Kill Rock Stars.

SCQ Rating: 83%

“Transgressive” as Jamie Stewart has maintained his brand through the years and many releases, an equally appropriate descriptor for Xiu Xiu is undoubtedly “perplexing”. Upon the arrival of this, Stewart’s seventh full-length, critics have begun questioning whether Xiu Xiu has finally tipped into self-parody, to which I say: where’ve you been? Going back to the California band’s break-out, did any of these columnists look at the cover of Fabulous Muscles? Could they not understand Stewart’s painstaking warble in ‘I Luv the Valley, OH!’ to be communicating “my behind is a beehive”? Stewart’s lyrics have always walked a line of dark, even nerdy, humour - no less strictly than how his songs consistently threaten to deconstruct around your very ears – and his refusal to garner goth-cred through self-seriousness has, in no small part, warded off the very parody that grips most goth-figureheads.

Even with a title like Dear God, I Hate Myself – more befitting for a lame-o emo outfit of angsty teenagers than a well-read artist of thirty-eight years – Xiu Xiu continues to perplex their most ardent followers like a joke-filled suicide letter. “If you are expecting consolation / I will become outrageous / If you expect me to be outrageous / I will be extra outrageous” Stewart quivers in ‘Gray Death’, an opener which, through graceful strings and abrupt guitar distortion, introduces the contributions of new Xiu Xiu collaborator Angela Seo. Filling the shoes of recently departed band-mate Caralee McElroy (a fan-favourite), Seo arrives in time to share a particularly glitchier direction for Xiu Xiu, one that sparkles on the pretty-much perfect dance track ‘Chocolate Makes You Happy’ and flirts with industrial noise on the Nintendo DS-composed ‘Secret Motel’. As with every Xiu Xiu album I’ve heard, Dear God, I Hate Myself features the requisite few standoffish tracks, like ‘Apple For a Brain’ which never quite finds itself, but even those misfires (‘Impossible Feeling’, ‘Falkland Rd’) have a fractured orchestration that feels justly overcast and bittersweet. Whatever they lack in catchiness or cohesiveness is countered well by their mood, which fills the gaps of stronger cuts like ‘This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)’ and the touching ‘House Sparrow’.

Dear God, I Hate Myself isn’t a self-parody so much as a leveling out of several long-running Xiu Xiu themes: catharsis, sex, religion, trauma, self-harm and bondage (you know, the usual…). That half of these subjects are communicated in the record’s title alone indeed illustrates an influx of plain-spoken drama to these songs, as if Stewart’s bouts of depression have spiraled into shock-me desperation. What a tempting theory that might’ve been had Dear God, I Hate Myself lacked the guts necessary to rival Xiu Xiu’s best efforts, but it has those guts, and smears them proudly on the mirror. This isn’t a record of desperation, it’s a record of assuredness. Assuredness through outlandishness.

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