written by Chris Familton
Never one to shy from displaying his emotions, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart returns with his eighth LP Always. The album title suitably sums up his continued obsessions with damaged emotions, the human body and oppression. He wraps it all up in what has become a trademark sound of dark electronica full of swoon and suffocating catharsis. The reference points of 80s post punk and goth still loom large, particularly the opener Hi which at times sounds like a perfect snapshot of the exact moment Joy Division morphed into New Order.
As intense and claustrophobic as Always is there is also a perverse sense of optimism that comes through, probably more attributable to the music than Stewart’s lyrics. Honeysuckle is musically only a few degrees of separation away from something that Erasure could write while the austere gothic balladry of Oldness is a sonic sister to the work of Antony Hegarty and Perfume Genius. The lyrical content of the album is as confrontational and melodramatic as ever with I Luv Abortion a fraught and intense barrage of words over a digital industrial clatter. It is far from a comfortable listen yet no-one would expect Stewart to take a passive approach to such an issue. You get the sense that he revels in provoking via the schizophrenic spurts of white noise and rave synths and lines like “there’s no need to fuck yourself in the arse, but so often we bring it on”. Always ends on a high note with his duet with Carla Bozulich on Smear The Queen that builds into a wall of fractured dissonance.
Xiu Xiu is definitely an acquired taste and if you haven’t been drawn into his dark and twisted fantasy yet then it is unlikely Always will change your mind. Those who are already fans of Stewart’ work should embrace the album as another brutally honest musical statement.
this review was first published in Drum Media