You've probably heard of Xiu Xiu, not because they're a populist band or because they make blindingly good music that you simply had to hear in any of the years that they've been around but simply because they make so much music.
Always is the bands ninth studio LP since their formation in 2002. That might not sound too over the top but when you consider the amount of EP's, collaborations and splits with artists from Deerhoof to Devendra Banhart, you wonder where they find the time. Now we're calling Xiu Xiu a band but for all intents and purposes, they may as well be a solo artist as Jamie Stewart has been the only continuous member of the group and the man responsible for the sound.
Xiu Xiu have largely relied on percussive instrumentation and Always does not break with tradition. Over the years, the sound of the group has evolved to include synth pop, mandolins and even the Nintendo DS was used for song writing purposes on 2010's Dear God, I Hate Myself. Here though, to celebrate a decade of existence, Stewart and his comrades have combined the dark trademark vocal and lyrical prowess with a stark dissonant sound that traverses genres including elements of Kraut rock and choral music.
'Gul Muddin' is an 8 bit guitar hook that soundtracks Mario briskly walking through hell while Stewart sings about an Afghani boy murdered for sport by American soldiers. Quite clearly then, the song is dark but it's also catchy as hell making the point more subversive when it reaches you. This morphs into 'Born To Suffer', which is nothing if not an ode to the pomp of 80's synth pop acts from Depeche Mode to David Bowie. As Stewart begs, "Try not to cry in public, try not to cry [insert place here]" the tracks becomes ever more unhinged until the pop has transformed into a manic breakdown.
What Stewart has always done brilliantly is transform his subjects of public protest into personal significance and here this is more apt that ever, as he draws from his own life history for his art. 'Black Drum Machine', the final track, finishes with Stewart going only slightly mental and saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," before he just starts shouting and jumping on a piano like he's scoring a Hitchcock film. He finishes the narrative of incest and molestation (lovely) he started on 2008's 'Black Keyboard'.
If you think about the fact that the man responsible for this has released eight other albums that are just as amazingly fun and horrible and that he's disgustingly talented then you'll just end up bitter and critical, so instead, it's better to think about how 'Hi' is the best way for any album to open and about how all bands should do this from now on. By the end of the impeccably funny and harrowing first single from the record you will be screaming "Hi" from your pit of despair.
Always is a short album rammed with effective tracks that pull you in with infectious bass lines and then proceed to cut you with their lethal cocktail of faux friendly sounds 'Honey Suckle' and Stewarts bleakly delivered lyrics about how you should essentially just give up now, "I get up, get up, but the day is ruined again. Yesterday was awful, today's discoloured." Xiu Xiu have always been unhinged and provocative with their subject matter, but 'I Love Abortion' is perhaps his most chaotic performances to date. It's a harsh two and half minute track in which Stewart barks his politics at you like he's the missing link in Atari Teenage Riot's reign of musical rage.
Xiu Xiu have always been many things to many people, they've always been different, always expressive, always heartfelt, and always experimental, but on their tenth year still going strong Always proves that they remain prevalent and relevant.