Xiu Xiu is an American experimental rock outfit from San Jose, California. They debuted in 2002 with Knife Play and have gone on to release 13 studio albums with rarely a year going by without a Xiu Xiu release. Few have charted, though their Record Store Day special, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks hit number nine on the US heat charts. By and large, their work has been largely underground, though they’ve built a respectable cult fan base. David Espinoza compared their sound to a mixture of Robert Smith and Trent Reznor while Pitchfork noted a “continual poetic and romantic beauty,” in their lyricism.
Sonically, Xiu Xiu is hard to place, not the least because each of their albums vary widely in style and influence. The majority of their work can largely be placed under umbrella groupings like industrial rock, noise pop, and experimental psych, each of which do describe some aspect of what’s happening on a Xiu Xiu record. Most importantly, their manic energy, massive pallet, and disregard for traditional rules of music make for an unpredictable and unique experience. Girl With Basket of Fruit is their most recent effort and it’s the darkest and most crushing to date.
From the first moments of the album, it’s pummeling and horrific soundscape becomes extremely clear. The opener and title track features abrasive loops of electronic instrumentation at a breakneck tempo while “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” sounds like a soundtrack to a hellish rave with grating, high pitched tones setting a quick pace which melts away into bizarre breakdowns that will likely sound alien to even the most dedicated fans of experimental music.
There are clear looks to the past of experimental music with tracks like “It Comes Out as a Joke,” utilizing the kind of manic chaos that characterized the most insane works of artists like Captain Beefheart and Jim Morrison. Meanwhile, “The Wrong Thing,” is reminiscent of the haunting, experimental jazz works of David Bowie’s final releases.
On the other hand, the sound pallet of this album contains a fascinating duality between past and future. Take a song like “Ice Cream Truck,” for example, where futuristic lasers and hisses are intercut with guttural growls from unknown creatures, only to dissolve into a dancing baseline played on upright bass, the recording of which is left almost raw. “Scisssssssors,” on the other hand, mixes a rolling collection of latin-inspired drums and a few chilling screams with synth squeals and low, rumbling buzzes. This imbalance is fascinating and contributes to the overall sense of unease this album creates.
This sense is made far stronger by some of the most unnerving lyrics in recent memory. “Amargi ve Moo,” seem to be written by a man so unhinged from reality that he speaks on of horrendous ideas with a poetic beauty which permeates even his descriptions of collecting tumors and beheading saints. On the other hand, “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” recounts the true story of the appalling murder and forced abortion of a Southern black woman in the early 20th century with such unbridled honestly that I’ve genuinely never been more disturbed by a piece of writing.
As excellent as the album is, it seems to stumble just a bit at the finish line. The closer, “Normal Love,” has a lot going for it, namely intriguing vocal performances and well written lyrics, but the relatively simple chord progression and many of the more cliched vocal ad libs in the background completely kill the momentum of the record thus far. The song also lacks some of the cohesion that made earlier cuts so fantastic.
Regardless, Girl with Basket of Fruit is absolutely incredible. Every second of the project is daring and spellbinding. It reaches some of the darkest lyrical places I’ve ever heard a record go, and it gets there with mind-boggling instrumentation and production.
Girl with Basket of Fruit is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you can brave this hellscape of an album, the reward is well worth your time.
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2X8UrSM