ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
Them: “What are you thinking about right now, Jamie?” Jamie Stewart: “Every frog hops right up into her butthole / Every frog eats a single butthole flea on its way in / She brown box squeezes them all into froghost! / A flock of erect dicks on bat wings / Pee-pees into her sleeping face / And pointlessly tries to fuck a blue sky / At the witch execution, they all hope to be called up.” Yup, Stewart may have lost his mind. If those lines from the title track off Xiu Xiu’s latest album titled Girl With Basket of Fruit don’t leave a charming first impression, I don’t know what will. Sarcasm aside, Xiu Xiu—through its numerous evolutions and variations—continues to exist on its own musical spectrum. Ever since its debut album, Knife Play in 2002, Xiu Xiu has dwelled cryptically but profoundly in the crevices of experimental pop/rock, making music that supersedes abrasiveness and peculiarity. With Stewart as the deeply reflective and often sad mastermind behind Xiu Xiu’s weirdness, each album since Knife Play has been made slightly different from one another, gradually leaning more pop with each release. In fact, Xiu’s Xiu’s last album, 2016’s FORGET was the band’s most palatable and ‘radio-friendly’ offering to date. Though FORGET became Xiu Xiu’s most listenable addition to its discography, the band’s bizarre luster dimmed. Nevertheless, Xiu Xiu, after the departure of Shayna Dunkelman's and the addition of enigmatic percussionist Thor Harris (Swans), harkens to its weird beginnings and delivers Girl With Basket of Fruit. A shocking diversion that steers clear from the “pop-leaning” direction Stewart and Co. were traveling with their more melodic last album, Girl With A Basket of Fruit is a remarkably bold release, which speaks volume considering the polarizing nature of this ever-evolving collective. A musical marvel that mirrors the smiling, purple imp emoji (😈), Girl With Basket of Fruit will disintegrate the parietal lobe of many, if not, most brains. With ricocheting post-industrial energy operating as the musical lifeblood, this album is sadistically cathartic when blasted full-volume on speakers rather than headphones. Blending African-influenced rhythms with industrial synths, Xiu Xiu concocts an atmosphere that resembles no other. Sonically and emotionally unstable from start to finish, Girl With Basket of Fruit kicks off and listeners in the face with the ritualistic title track. Lyrically erotic and vile, listeners are deluged by a percussive-driven hellscape where you’ll dance feverishly and feel perverse while doing so. Chilling to the bone, “It Comes Out as a Joke” furthers the album’s boisterous and ritualistic atmosphere as distorted voices whisper beneath while Stewart, with his unnerving shriek shrouded in fuzz and delay, screams from the top of his lungs, “But this a joke as well / Bedroom filling with true black / Bedroom filling with smoke, smoke / Bedroom filling with clack, clack / Bedroom filling with smoke.”
If the weirdness of Girl With Basket of Fruit has yet to be made clear at this point, keep listening until you get to the more somber ‘Amargi ve Moo.” With a beautifully forlorn cello soaring and searing in the background, this seemingly neo-classical composition gives way to unforeseen chaos as Stewart, who continues to render his words abstract, eventually erupts and rapidly shakes his face in side-to-side motion. The result is an unsettling sound one probably wouldn’t want to hear twice. With Xiu Xiu spiraling completely out of control, it may be hard to keep listening. However, the record’s lone ‘single-worthy’ moment arrives with the outfit’s definition of a club-banger, “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy.” As blistering industrial beats saturate surreal soundscapes pulverize the senses alongside spoken samples straight from the depths of hell, “Is that you, my prize pig? / I am sorry I left you out at pasture to die,” Xiu Xiu delivers their most carnivorous display of sound to date. At this point, there’s no conceivable way this album can get any more off-putting—right? Wrong! Two tracks later, this infernal project descends deeper into an unexplored rabbit hole of complete madness with “Mary Turner, Mary Turner.” An absolutely nightmarish four minutes, this song, or whatever you want to call it, may be the most unsettling composition of sound and voice I’ve ever experienced—so proceed with caution. With his voice distorted and sounding possessed, Stewart gruesomely recounts the brutal murders of an African-American couple, Hazel and Mary Turner: “Looking up the first and only light it ever sees / The flames, the flame of its mother's burning, burning / Reaching out the first and only loving touch it receives / The falling ash of its mommy's hair on fire / The baby, baby cried in the dirt / Quieted, quieted by a boot's heel…” The sonic equivalent to a snuff film, this vividly searing cut is almost impossible to sit through without taking a breather to ponder what Stewart is trying to express. Nevertheless, his parting words, “Fuck your guns / Fuck your war / Fuck your truck / Fuck your flag,” leaves behind a crystalline message regarding the incessant ringing of racism and white supremacy that prevails 100 years after their murders. Though much of Girl With Basket of Fruit relishes in an abyss of lyrical darkness and animalistic sound, this is an album that comes straight from a head brimming with artistic mystery and a heart with something profound to say—even if Stewart’s words are often lost in the abstract. That being said, Xiu Xiu concludes this musical lobotomy with a heartrending piano ballad "Normal Love." Per usual, Stewart’s voice is stripped to a mournful cry while his words drip with doubt and anxiety, “I want to pretend / But I cannot pretend / Want me to speak nor to blink / You don't want to feel attractive nor feel pride / I think, in the end, I don't need to feel pride.” With calamity and dissonance of the eight prior tracks weighing heavily on the backs of listeners’ minds, those who’ve endured the suspense are rewarded with one of the most sobering moments of Xiu Xiu’s entire discography. In all reality, for those who were drawn to the far more palatable nature of FORGET, this record will disappoint. Without a single "catchy" moment, Girl With Basket of Fruit proves there is no one quite like Xiu Xiu, and because their musical uniqueness may rub listeners the wrong way like a piece of sandpaper against the surface of aged metal, they are better and particularly special for this reason.
THE 405 RATING: 7.5/10