Jamie Stewart is what Victorian society would have called, “an unsettling young man.” To hear Jamie’s band Xiu Xiu play is to be shaken, disturbed, and shown something original. If they say everything’s been done, and that the only thing that cracks of newness is what is often called “the unspeakable vision of the individual,” then Jamie is in a rare class. His music is new because it’s solidly Jamie himself. There is only one Jamie Stewart and because he writes honestly about his personal experience, there is only one Xiu Xiu.
Jamie sings haunted and tortured though always with a sense of humor somewhere below the poisoned blood. While he whispers and shakes and shouts about family secrets, mental sickness, and mortal rot—oft times from a feminine perspective—unnatural percussion cracks around him like wine glasses snapped at their stems. Guitars clang and break into damaged strums, and we are suddenly jarred into listening.
Jamie’s last three records, Knife Play, A Promise and Fabulous Muscles were exercises in pain unaffected for—or by—art and audience. Lyrics named names and journalists compared his music to Morrissey, Conor Oberst, and the more industrial veins of dance music.
Jamie’s new record is his most harrowing and beautiful to date. On La Foret, he sings about death, doomed love and the decay of relationships. As always, he becomes more specific. Jamie says, “Saturn” is about “wanting to rape the president to death and eat his body as inspired by the Goya painting of Saturn eating his sons.” “Baby Captain” is a “familial love note to my brother and a hope to mend his broken heart and offer encouragement.” (It’s like “Hey Jude” but more personal and too dark for radio.) “Muppet Face,” with its howl of wind-tunnel guitar, house beats and eerie harmonium, talks about “a cat dying and the negative understanding of how fucked up my sexual self is and how disgusted I have become with myself in regards to this.”
The album waltzes between acoustic parts so intimate that his shoe can be heard scooting on the studio floor as he moves closer to the mic. Then come the pounding darkwave thunderstorms where electronics and guitars go Mogwai loud and Jamie screams over the hissing, spitting deluge.
It’s the kind of thing that makes even the most confessional-driven emo sound fake and vague, the type of record that leaves you seasick. So the choice is yours. Listen to La Foret, shudder, go sit in the sun and be glad you’re not Jamie. Or, delve deeper, play it over and over, read the lyric sheet, and give your heart to the darkness. Not an easy choice, to be sure, but the rewards in going with the latter are immense.
Xiu Xiu is performing live at these venues:
Tue, Jun 28 Bloomington Rhino's
Wed, Jun 29 St Louis Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center
Thu, Jun 30 Kansas City The Black Door
Fri, Jul 1 Denver Larimer Lounge
Sat, Jul 2 Salt Lake City Kilby Court
Read NT's Xiu Xiu show review