Xiu Xiu go “foret” on new album

Mike Morrone

Experimental collective Xiu Xiu, hailing from San Jose, Calif., open their latest release, “La Foret,” with “Clover,” a turgid combination of flinty, throaty vocals, a solemn guitar and a vibraphone. Upon hearing the first 5:11 of “La Foret,” the listener ought to recognize that he or she is in for a challenging listen.

Xiu Xiu, (pronounced “Shoe Shoe,” and named for the art-house film, “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl”), mix odd combinations of harmonium, tuba mouth piece, and other musical oddities, as well as the more traditional elements of guitar and keyboard. They have put out 4 LPs and 2 EPs since 2002, cultivating a smallish but fervent following among hipsters and the art college scene. The band has played well through their intuitions in the past, and “La Foret” finds them exploring the gray areas where much music innovation is created.

Second track, “Muppet Face,” opens with a cacophony of bells and chimes, both electronic and traditional. Complimented with quirky, Bjorkesque chirps and warbles as well as intense feedback, frontman Jaime Stewart’s vocals are buried deep under the unorthodox mix. By the third track, “Mousey Toy,” it becomes apparent that this album is a rather delicate offering, lyrically presenting haunting ruminations on seduction, and heartbreak. The tight cadence of the snare drums in the second half of this song add great drama for effect, almost seeming to be the noise straight from a nightmare.

Dissonance appears to be a theme within “La Foret,” and this reviewer would argue it is more apparent than that of oft-mentioned post-rock artists such as Slint, Mogwai or Tortoise.

Another element worth complimenting are the programming skills of Stewart, especially on “Pox,” where the (at times) engulfing soundscapes invoke Joy Division at its best, or at the very least, early period New Order – a high compliment from this reviewer.

While the album presents many disconnected yet absorbing moments of pure noise or introspection, the revelations are too sparse for this album as a whole to be considered anything besides pedestrian. For this reviewer, the biggest problem actually was Stewart’s voice, trying to capture the cautioning, weary sound of Conor Oberst or Cass McCombs. At times, the vocals just sound unappealing and tentative. (One could rebut that this was intended, as the weight of Stewart’s experiences gleam through his arrangements and augment his pointed lyrics, but it can quickly lose its appeal, and that is fatal.) Stewart should also leave the bits of his singer/songwriter arsenal for more straightforward artists, and stay with arranging and programming electric-based compositions.

Overall, the album does have appeal, but it is certainly not made for the mainstream, OC-loving masses, nor should it be picked up on a whim, with birthday cash from granma, since this is how one reviewer obtained the album. I cannot recommend this album as a whole, but those who enjoy difficult music and have the patience to lend multiple listens ought to check out “La Foret.”