Album: Girl with Basket of Fruit
Artist: Xiu Xiu
Non-Airable Tracks: 1, 5, 7
If I’m to be completely honest with myself, this album makes me nauseous. I like to think that I’m experienced with my treatment of experimental music, as several of my favorite artists examine and probe the boundaries of song structure, musical texture, and content. But Xiu Xiu are infamous for being particularly obtuse. I thought I liked Xiu Xiu! I enjoyed the art pop of 2017’s Forget and the lush ambient of 2016’s Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, two noticeably more accessible releases. Going back further, I loved Fabulous Muscles and what I’ve heard of A Promise. I admit I haven’t listened to the 5 or 6 albums they have in between what I’ve listed but can you blame me? Jamie Stewart releases so much of himself in his music that it’s frightening to listen to, and I rarely find myself in the mood to listen to the mental degradation of a man.
I’ve spoken at length on what Xiu Xiu has done in the past. So what’s going on in this album? Well, to start, opener “Girl with Basket of Fruit” is one of the most abrasive tracks they’ve ever written. Laced with Stewart’s profane and sexual imagery, this song follows a simple drum track interwoven with copious amounts of noise. The lyrics are a little much for me honestly. I’m not going to quote anything but you can (would not recommend) look them up. From there we head through a boring and derivative track “It Comes Out as a Joke” to arrive at “Amargi ve Moo” which is at least partially interesting for it’s bizarre singing style and cello. From there it’s more samey tracks until we arrive at the album’s clear standout.
Set over a brutal drum and bass beat, “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” is a danceable clusterfuck of chopped and screwed samples and yet again, more noise. I’m not going to pretend to know what this song is even about but man is it cool. From here, it becomes apparent how bottom heavy this album is. From slow ambient killer “The Wrong Thing” to my favorite track on this album, the bone chilling “Mary Turner Mary Turner” which details the lynching and murder of black couple Mary and Hazel Turner. This song is legitimately not for faint of heart yet presents one of the most powerful compositions Xiu Xiu has ever written. Seek it out at your own peril. From there we touch on the brilliant “Scisssssssors” another one of my favorites and finish with the quiet, beautiful, closer “Normal Love”. A strong finish with an eerie (self?) love ballad.
So, the question remains: Is it worth it? There are some noticeable pacing problems in this album; the first half is a slog to listen to and wildly inconsistent and while the second half is artistically and musically brilliant, I don’t think it could stand on its own as say a five track EP. Without the sometimes boring and slow first half, the punching “Pumpkin Attack” and “Scisssssssors” have far less effect. The thematic groundwork laid out in the title track is later elaborated in the martyr like figures in “Mary Turner Mary Turner”. So, I would say that I recommend this album with some reservations. Listening to this is not a wholly pleasant experience. But the experience is worth it. Art is not always created for entertainment purposes and this album serves as a reminder to that.
Sounds Like: Throbbing Gristle, Prurient
Mary Turner Mary Turner
Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy
Reviewer’s Name: Bennett Tolar
Date of Review: 3/11/19