Xiu Xiu: La Foret

Adrien Begrand

Trust Jamie Stewart to deliver the Feel-Bad Hit of the Summer.

Xiu Xiu

La Foret

Label: 5 Rue Christine
US Release Date: 2005-07-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

By now, if you know the name Jamie Stewart, you either find his emotionally wracked compositions fascinating, or completely unbearable. There's no middle ground when it comes to people's opinions of the mastermind behind Xiu Xiu, just as his music has no middle ground. The man simply will never, ever play it safe: just when you're being lulled by a plaintively strummed acoustic guitar, massive shrieks of distorted synthesizers puncture your eardrums. As you begin to realize one of his songs is rather lovely, he starts singing about sodomy, in very graphic detail. He'll croon tenderly one second, and emit insane shrieks the next. Stewart is a master at keeping audiences on the edges of their seats: they're either leaning closer to drink it all in, or they're preparing to bolt.

Ever the prolific songwriter, Stewart continues to adhere to his self-imposed quota of one album per year, and Xiu Xiu's latest, La Foret continues the odd progression of this extremely odd band. If 2003's A Promise ranks as one of the most harrowing "dark night of the soul" recordings in at least the last decade, last year's Fabulous Muscles was a most refreshing departure from the sparse, minimalist sounds of its predecessor, with the band employing some surprisingly mainstream musical touches, best exemplified by the brilliant "I Luv the Valley". The music was still as intense as people expected, but offset by the improved production and pleasant synth sounds, it was much easier to digest than ever before. It was a somewhat triumphant piece of work, proof that Xiu Xiu were capable of actual musical growth, and not just a bunch of dime-a-dozen, whiny indie artists.

So, a little more than a year later, La Foret has thrown us all for yet another loop. If Fablous Muscles was a major step forward, the new disc offers a tentative step backwards, and to the side a bit. Nestled uncomfortably between the hushed tones of A Promise and the programmed sounds of the last album, La Foret is murkier, much more enigmatic, and, true to form, as unsettling as always.

Opening track "Clover" is as understated an album opener as you'll hear, akin to a singer shambling onto a stage and quietly singing, while an indifferent audience keeps talking amongst themselves. "I tried hard to be good to you/ I felt peace inside my head," sings Stewart, 20 seconds in. Could it be that the man has finally found happiness and is ready to stop moping and get on with his life? As Bob Mould once said, not a snowball's chance in hell. Stewart's voice quavers, a plaintive cello and vibraphone enters for a minute, before giving way to the solo acoustic guitar, and Stewart delivers the expected payoff line: "It's unmanageable to just keep on living." The song has a stately beauty to it, chilly as it may be, and for once, it's the instrumental backdrop that sets the mood best, not Stewart's lyrics.

As is always the case with Xiu Xiu, there's a childlike quality underscoring this very dark music. "Muppet Face" bursts with Casio beats and frenetic glockenspiel notes; after a cryptic, surreal verse ("This shirt clings like dander/This kiss scrapes like rust"), a cacophonous chorus of ringing synths all but drowns out Stewart's howls. The piano-tinged "Mousey Toy" is yet another tale of dominance over Stewart's protagonist, and includes lyrics that reach a new level of narcissism, as he declares, "This continent is led by the holocaust beneath my ribs." The juvenile poetry of "Ale" ("Shut up shut up/ Is that your glass heart clinking?") is tastefully accompanied by clarinet and bass clarinet, while "Bog People" has a deceptively innocent, song-song quality to it, its cheerful arrangement offset by hints at domestic violence ("There will always be a lonely son/ There will always be a humiliated little girl").

It's the vicious "Pox" that stands out above everything else on La Foret; much like "I Luv the Valley", it is as vitriolic as it is catchy, and for the first time, Stewart, a major Smiths and Joy Division fan, comes close to matching the acid-tongued post punk of his heroes. A cold, insistently downstrummed electric guitar carries the song, synths swirling and electronic beats thumping in the background, as Stewart does his best Ian Curtis impersonation, singing in the menacing, slyly catchy chorus, "Jesus is wondering/ If even he can love you." He is absolutely merciless, muttering bitterly, "This plastic coffin always in the shade of your sickening daughters and your idiotic hobbling wife," seething with rage toward his subject. This song could very well be the best song the man has written to date.

As solid as the rest of the album is, La Foret does struggle to reach the heights that "Pox" achieves, and the dense, nearly unlistenable "Saturn" is the one track that does not belong, a needlessly self-indulgent fantasy of what Stewart describes as, "wanting to rape the President and eat his body." After that needless distraction, though, the album cruises along confidently, concluding strongly with the aching "Yellow Raspberry". By bringing in more musical variation into the mix, Stewart has managed to keep things interesting enough again, the arrangements making his frantic outbursts more palatable than ever. When all is said and done, though, Stewart remains as sick as ever. If there's one positive thing about Xiu Xiu's music, it's that if you ever feel miserable, it's oddly heartening to know that somewhere in this world, Jamie Stewart feels much, much worse.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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

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