Xiu Xiu - La Foret

"Stewart sings of the insipid voice of his lover, wonders if he can hear their glass heart clinking, and then finally cuddles up at their “disgusting feet”. Really, you can only laugh.



Xiu Xiu – La Foret

Jamie Stewart is the man behind Xiu Xiu and it seems unlikely that, given the choice, you would wish to put yourself in his place. Mr. Stewart is not a happy man. Or at least his songs portray a man that is only still living out of some perverse masochistic joy. Whilst sad songs make the world go round some of the stuff on La Foret is so gloomy and bleak that it almost makes you want to laugh (a bit like moments in W.G. Sebald's work, or is that just me?). Opener Clover is a good example. Stewart mumbles his way through the song and it is rather embarrassing to listen to lyrics that should never have left the pages of a sixteen year old's diary. The words (along the lines of how unbearable life is) are backed by spare but interesting instrumentation - violins, xylophones and the like. But the feeling remains that an album full of this kind of stuff and we're going to need to ring him up and tell him to go and have a good stiff walk, a bowl of soup and an early night.

On Muppet Face everything changes. What sounds like a choir of doorbells gives way to a gentle electronic beat and Stewart actually makes some attempt to sing. But god alone knows what he's on about. I swear that at one point he mentions a donkey that smells like Faluja. Then there's a rush of electronic noise, like twenty cheap casio organs all going on the blink at once. There's a moment of calm as a tune breaks out but it doesn't last - huge slabs of white noise overwhelm the pretty melody before it really had a chance.

Mouse Toy begins gently, Stewart's singing a painful tremble. A beat emerges until the song ends up with a din that resembles a machine gun battle in the belfry of a church. The next track, Pox, starts out as standard indie fare – well, indie fare haunted by the ghost of Depeche Mode. Or, more precisely, indie fare haunted by the ghost of Depeche Mode and an intergalactic battle. Lyrics seem to include something about an "idiotic hobbling wife". It is at this point that one can picture disaffected suburban American teens listening to this in their bedrooms very loudly whilst mom shouts at them that dinner is on the table. The kids are thinking just how true the song is and the moms are wondering why their children hate them so much. Or does that just happen in the movies?

After Saturn (where Stewart writes about raping and eating President Bush – don't ask) we come to Rise of Sharon. The song is made up of cathedral drones, rattling dustbins and hysteric singing. Elsewhere Bog People features treated acoustic guitar, manky electro handclaps, distressed backing singing and much yelping. Baby Captain is nearly a normal song – it has a verse and a chorus and whilst it is weighed down by scraping and whirring sounds it has an energetic chorus. Having said this, it does sound as though Andy Bell has been kidnapped and locked in a box and is shouting to draw attention to his plight. And so it goes on. 

As you might be able to gather by now there is an obtuse streak in the music of Xiu Xiu. The music isn't simply downbeat and miserablist. Nor does it allow for the release that indie rock can give. It has industrial-gothic flourishes and swathes of abstract noise. And all of this can take place in one song. The only unifying factor is the lyrical content of the songs (when it can be heard). As mentioned earlier, the disaffected and self-hating lyrics do provide moments of (unintentional) humour. On Ale for instance (which does feature some tasteful woodwind flourishes) Stewart sings of the insipid voice of his lover, wonders if he can hear their glass heart clinking, and then finally cuddles up at their "disgusting feet". Really, you can only laugh.

So the music is wilfully awkward and the lyrics comically nihilistic. I'm not sure that it really works but you cannot accuse Stewart of making a boring album. In fact, were you to ever meet Jamie Stewart it would probably be wise to wear steel capped boots. Such is Stewart's capacity for self-destruction he's no doubt already shot himself in both feet and might be wanting others to take a pot shot at.


Words: Chris Dawson.