Thursday, February 23, 2017

Xiu Xiu - Forget Review

Since the turn of the millennium, the number of artists who are as versatile as Xiu Xiu can be counted on one hand. Few, if any, can attest to the sheer incalculability the current trio professes in regards to genre dynamics. While labels can be surmised on an album-wide basis, the song-by-song shifts Jamie Stewart and company endure is something rarely seen in music. One minute he's dangling a Noise-induced fervor over the listeners' heads, the next he's bathing them with sincere Pop sensibilities. Sometimes, on their best works, Xiu Xiu can kill two birds with one stone, creating unforgettable efforts like 'I Luv The Valley OH!' or 'Dear God, I Hate Myself.' Hell, they can even attack you with gratingly harsh synths before treating you to an adolescence's heartwarming diary ('Boy Soprano' to 'Hello From Eau Claire'). Point being, Stewart's built a world truly his own. The instruments, lyrics, vocals, and structures can rarely be found elsewhere, making him a creative force by every possible definition. Xiu Xiu's latest, as fans have come to expect, is no different. Forget takes their formula for unexpectedness and replicates it, twisting around unforeseen bends, manifesting ideas that'll satisfy every artistic twitch you may have.

It wasn't until last year, more than a decade into their career, where Xiu Xiu finally created an engulfing project that could be admired throughout, rather than plucked apart piece by piece. Ironically, it wasn't Stewart's own work, but rather inspiration from the 1991 cult classic Twin Peaks. A cover album that abhorred the word parody, Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks was a gargantuan swath of music that finally found a home for Xiu Xiu's music that was always so lost. Like the show itself, the LP intertwined romantic, mystery, suspense, and horror around its finger, and reinvigorated the slowly-fading band with a resurgence only a quality album could give them. And while Xiu Xiu weren't short on unique ideas, they did after all release Kling Klang, a 20-minute piece with hundreds of pink dildos vibrating against one another, fans were growing weary of the repetitiveness their studio LP's exuded. Ever since 2004's Fabulous Muscles, an album that brought Stewart's world new-found fame, the musician has been eagerly trying to catch lightning twice. Some efforts were better than others, but all were inconsistent. It wasn't until Plays The Music where Xiu Xiu's experimental ways truly hit their next plateau.

And in some sense, Forget's regression to the norm is slightly disappointing. Ten tracks, almost all within that standard three to five-minute threshold, is not unusual for fans. For newbies though, just like any other Xiu Xiu project, Forget will stun you with its weirdness. The album wastes no time doing so, kickstarting 'The Call' with a profane-riddled spaz attack of braggadocio from a meme-consumed prostitute. As you'd guess, it's hilarious, but made even more so by the fact that, between these unsuspecting outbursts, Stewart's quivering in his usual falsetto, trying to get a legit song across. It's not a Forget standout, but 'The Call' welcomes newcomers, and those fallen accustomed to Plays The Music's relative uniformity, by presenting them with classic Xiu Xiu eccentricities. Another track that abides by this blueprint, but achieves a better result, is the album's second single 'Jenny GoGo.' There's nothing as abruptly jarring as 'The Call's' second voice, but 'Jenny GoGo' comes complete with all the Xiu Xiu bells and whistles. Stewart's famous yelp, his emasculated songwriting, innocent glitches that resemble a cartoon Halloween, and of course, a synth-diving bounce that works as dance provocation, are all on display.

However, Forget's true prowess can be found on two tracks that land side-by-side. Not since 2005's La Foret, with the back-to-back 'Ale' and 'Bog People,' has Xiu Xiu so flawlessly labored experimentation with catchiness in such close succession. One such track is the album's lead single, 'Wondering,' which might be the group's catchiest, and most mainstream, track yet. Unashamedly addictive, 'Wondering' strongly resembles the early era of MGMT, and namely 'Time To Pretend's' reverb-heavy SynthPop. Better yet, the song never stagnates, moving from one potential chorus to the next, so striking and enjoyable that it's easy to forget that noise, still, is the primary sound. Theoretically, anyone should be able to enjoy 'Wondering.' That's not necessarily the case for 'Get Up,' a slow burn found in 'Wondering's' rubble, but the artistic ambition found there instead is sensational. To me, it's immediately one of the group's best works. Structurally magnificent, lyrically revealing, and complete with a bombastic climax, 'Get Up' is everything you'd want in a Xiu Xiu song. Taken by me as Stewart's love of music, and even more so, the reason for his existence ("you are the reason I was born"), 'Get Up' toys with silly instruments and the lead's fleeting emotions. Easily two of 2017's best tracks so far.

If there's one setback on Forget, it's the album's second half. From 'At Last, At Last' to the album's close, no song has as truly impressionable taste as the standouts found previous to it. The title track comes closest, but 'Petite,' which follows, holds little intrigue apart from Stewart's reflective stance. Call it a necessary evil, the slow drudge found here rounds out Xiu Xiu's formula and wouldn't have improved the album's variety with another glitchy romp. While tracks seven, eight, and nine struggle to make a name for themselves, 'Faith, Torn Apart' does so instantaneously. It's Forget's monstrous, eight-minute finale, but one that's largely ruined by an extended monologue that relies on repetition. The first half of 'Faith, Torn Apart' approaches structure like 'Falling,' Plays The Music's magnificent beast, with haunting chants and pounding drums. But the closer's second half resembles 'Josie's Past' from the same album, taking away the Horror and replacing it with some Black Comedy. The infinitely complex and detailed scene girl riddling off her haves and wants is an enthralling first listen, but one that's expendable after that. However, the point still stands, even with those three-minutes or some iffy deep cuts, Forget captures Xiu Xiu where they've always stood; tastemakers of the undefinably weird.

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