Written By: Vincent Nijenhuis
Xiu Xiu might possibly be the band making the most gut-wrenching experimental pop music today. Xiu Xiu is the brainchild of Jamie Stewart, and he is the only consistent member of the band since the band’s inception. One listen to Jamie Stewart’s vocals on the title track “Fabulous Muscles” off their 2004 album, a song about giving a brutally rough blowjob to the straight ideal we queers cannot pass as, can leave practically anyone a sobbing mess of tears, and emotion. It would be easy to make this song angry, or spiteful, but Jamie Stewart’s lyrics are blunt, and painfully honest with his vocals on the track being achingly earnest and steeped in a deep sense of self-loathing.
On “Wondering,” it’s fun to see Xiu Xiu being delighted at their own optimism for once. “Wondering” is the band’s first single off their next album FORGET, and unlike “Fabulous Muscles,” it doesn’t dwell on one’s inner revulsion, but instead knows that with failure comes relief. Jamie Stewart’s vocals are still saturated in the melancholy we’ve come to expect, and the lyrics are still as honest as ever, but both seem to be empowered by this seemingly new freedom of being willing to live instead of living in the ash of regret.
The track has an infectious synth beat to it that is joyous, and adds an urgency to the song, almost as if Jamie Stewart is desperate to get this message out of his system. The vocals on this track are put through a distortion filter which hits our ears like a soft velvet. It’s warm, inviting, and can’t help, but make you smile. The sincerity and emotion in Jamie Stewart’s voice still shines through the filter, but the lyrics during the verses are hard to understand on first listen. This is a song that doesn’t let the lyrics breathe much, but when instrumental melody is layered, and interesting, I can forgive that.
This track marks a change, not only in Xiu Xiu’s subject matter, but also in their sound. This is by far Xiu Xiu’s most conventional single to date. I dare call this track a great pop song without the caveat of calling it ‘experimental.’ It abides by fairly standard pop tropes, verse chorus verse and build up to explosion of energy and sound for the ‘bridge,’ but this song feels more at place on a playlist with Sleater Kinney’s “What’s Mine Is Yours” than anything off of Beyonce’s masterpiece Lemonade. Both “What’s Mine Is Yours” and “Wondering” both have a literal pause where all the music stops for a few seconds except one specific repeating sound about two thirds into the song and then dive head first into abrasiveness. In that brief moment, “Wondering” lets go of our hands, and leaves wondering around in the sonic landscape it created for us before grabbing us full throttle back into the chamber of Jamie Stewart’s voice. This is Xiu Xiu operating on a very metalevel intentionally giving us a taste before the record to leave us, well, wondering what’s to come.
FORGET is slanted to be released February 24th. “Wondering” is available to stream now off of Youtube, and Soundcloud.