WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sorrow sometimes has a sound worth recognizing. Especially if it’s this stylishly done.
By Eugene S. Robinson
There’s something sort of snaky and nimble about Xiu Xiu.
Equal parts earnest and dramatically direct, the experimental rock band is fronted by Jamie Stewart, the only consistent member since its 2002 start. And it’s quicksilver in its explication of the only thing really worth pursuing artistically: some measure of the truth.
”Being honest in this band is the point,” said Stewart from his unhealthily organic (read: dangerous and nongentrified) Los Angeles abode. “If we were ever to phone it in, then it would feel like the last 12 years of my life was a lie … not that I am always above lying.” Just not here or now.
Because what’s here presently is Angel Guts: Red Classroom, rumored to mark the end of the band, or perhaps the song cycle, or some certain aspect of Xiu Xiu. Coming on the heels of a recently canceled tour (nixed due to throat troubles), the album is a record of delicate horror. Or at the very least delicately records a variety of thinly veiled horrors.
All the ‘feels’ in music or video lately are the same. It’s like bore-core.
And these are indelibly marked by Stewart’s much-mentioned battles with depression and his surrender to what makes music like this so thrilling: a continual, sometimes infuriating, examination of the art of making art. “I am wondering if I am still the right person for the job. If I still have what it takes to write a song that works in the context of this band, if I still have the fortitude to expose myself as much as I have before,” he says.
And for the uninitiated, Stewart’s been achingly frank about his bisexuality, depression and a whole panoply of emotions that most would have kept concealed. Which is to say, a lesser artist might hold back, for no other reason than that putting your business in the streets can get dicey.
Or put another way, Stewart asks, ”Can I stand to deal with another person who is an asshole to me because of Xiu Xiu?”
Humblebrag disclosure: Jamie Stewart + our Deputy Editor Eugene S. Robinson, when not performing in their respective bands, Xiu Xiu and Oxbow, recorded a tribute to the actor Sal Mineo in 2013, called … SAL MINEO.
Given that he’s put in his time with over 12 years of albums and tour schedules that separate tourists from lifers — it may be a question he’s pondered before. But then you actually listen to AG:RC and realize that Stewart has committed to making bullshit-free art precisely as he’s always wanted to, though he has admitted that “as a song writer and a singer, I feel shaken and uncertain in a way I never have.”
”In general, popular music’s not doing too well communicating anything lately,” says longtime band member and keyboardist Angela Seo. ”It doesn’t really seem to be about anything besides money or sex. Videos are kind of the same. I think in some ways popular culture was always about shiny rich sex, but it seems especially pervasive nowadays. All the ‘feels’ in music or video lately are the same. Everything is just slick, shiny, well-dressed and clean. It’s like bore-core. Everyone’s just bored, and into being bored, and being boring has become cool.”
Just not here or now.