Music

Xiu Xiu: Dear God, I Hate Myself

Xiu Xiu's seventh studio album constantly begs the question: is Jamie Stewart serious?


Xiu Xiu

Dear God, I Hate Myself

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2010-02-23
UK Release Date: 2010-02-15
Amazon
iTunes

Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart has always had an air of ridiculousness about him. With a quavering sad-sack voice that comes off as a cross between Edwyn Collins and Robert Smith of the Cure, Stewart is always crooning about his existential misery as if he's about to collapse into a convulsive, blubbering heap. Reasonably by this point in the group's career, we should just accept it as a characteristic quirk of the band's sound. Still, Xiu Xiu's new album Dear God, I Hate Myself constantly begs the question: is this guy serious?

Putting aside Stewart's intentions for the moment, there is plenty of good music to be found on Xiu Xiu's seventh studio album. Featuring the addition of new band member Angela Seo and frequent contributions by producer/Deerhoof member Greg Saunier, Dear God, I Hate Myself is based on pulsing rhythms and glitchy electronic textures that Xiu Xiu uses as a foundation from which to stage its tuneful melodramas. Keeping with Xiu Xiu's equally arty/tweeish bent, four of the songs, including the title track, are primarily performed on a Nintendo DS gaming system. Despite the emphasis on this and other devices, the electronics are largely used as jarring noise to enhance the arrangements instead of carrying the hooks. These textures veer from intriguing to annoying. On “Secret Motel” it sounds like Stewart ran excitedly to the nearest keyboard in the studio and started pressing all the buttons to create random melodies. Regardless, Xiu Xiu's jittery heart-on-the-sleeve approach to experimental pop is endearing and results in some great songs, such as “Chocolate Makes You Happy”, the plaintive “Hyunhey's Theme”, and the bleak atmospherics of “House Sparrow”.

Having said that, Dear God, I Hate Myself can be off-putting to those who wonder if Stewart's maudlin musings are one big joke. Throughout, Stewart's histrionic voice pushes against the songs. He is always threatening to burst into melodramatic wailing or a sobbing mess, yet never does. As usual, Stewart weds his vocals to mopey lyrics that seem like they're hell-bent on out-Morrissey-ing Morrissey (sample lines from “Dear God, I Hate Myself”: “Despair will hold a place in my heart / a bigger one than you do do do / and I will always be nicer to the cat / than I am to you you you”). The instinctive approach upon hearing Stewart sing is to burst out laughing. Certainly this reaction has to be partly intentional. In a Scene Point Blank interview, Stewart expressed his belief that humor has a place in music as long as one uses humor “from your heart and crotch rather than a way to avoid showing yourself”, and cited Morrissey's old band the Smiths as an example, describing them as “one of the funniest bands of all time and the most touching".

Xiu Xiu's approach can in fact be distancing. The songs are frequently emotionally overwrought, usually due to Stewart's delivery, to the point of ludicrousness, making it impossible to relate to the sentiments within. Sure, Xiu Xiu's mix of levity and melancholy can yield enjoyable tunes. “Chocolate Makes You Happy”, for example, derives its charm from how ridiculous it is. Even then, the humor overwhelms any attempts to create empathy with the song's subject, and is jarring when intertwined with sobering lyrical details like a reference to bulimia. Xiu Xiu's attitude can undercut its music in other ways. The surging opener “Grey Death” aims for anthemic grandeur, but instead comes across as if the band is trying to make fun of British Sea Power or some other post-punk revival tradesmen. Even if Xiu Xiu has sincere intentions, the album projects the impression that it's willing to indulge in absurdity at the expense of the emotional heart of the songs.

On a musical level, the dense-textures-meet-winsome-pop of Dear God, I Hate Myself are accomplished enough that unconverted listeners should do themselves a favor and investigate Xiu Xiu's increasingly refined sound. The band does get better with each release, and even when it doesn't hit the mark its music is at the very least interesting. But it's not surprising if Stewart's cartoonish distortions of weighty emotions drive listeners away. Maybe someday he'll be able to find the humor in suffering in a way that doesn't sound like he's taking the piss.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Multi-tasking on your smart phone consumes too many resources, including memory, and can cause the system to "choke". Imagine what it does to your brain.

In the simplest of terms, Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen's The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World is a book about technology and the distractions that often accompany it. This may not sound like anything earth shattering. A lot of people have written about this subject. Still, this book feels a little different. It's a unique combination of research, data, and observation. Equally important, it doesn't just talk about the problem—it suggests solutions.

Keep reading... Show less
8

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image