Xiu Xiu’s got guts. Jamie Stewart’s experimental group takes the self-pity of Morrissey, amplifies it by ten-fold, and then proceeds to admit that there are thousands of people in Haiti suffering ten times more. Xiu Xiu’s dark picture of the world has simultaneously made the group’s music notoriously inaccessible to most and entirely refreshing to a few.
Always is probably the group’s most accessible album yet. Don’t worry. The album still tackles some depressing stuff ranging from abortion to selfish suicide attempts to the murder of civilian children by U.S. troops. But it’s the utterly catchy pop sensibility of Always that makes this album memorable. It’s almost disturbing how catchy a song about “feeling impossibly imperiled by the fragility and cruelty of Earth” (Stewart’s words) can be.
It may all seem incredibly pithy, but I’d argue it takes a lot of emotion to capture the suffering detailed on this album. The title comes from the song “Always” by Erasure (most recently of Robot Unicorn Attack fame), which helped Stewart’s brother Joey get through some disturbing family trauma. Now, Stewart claims he can’t listen to the Erasure song without crying. “Joey’s Song” details this very personal trauma experienced by his brother, but he just as eloquently cries for the self-harmer facing possible motherhood (“I Luv Abortion,” a track simultaneously brutal and triumphant) and the sexually abused factory worker in China (“Factory Girl”).
Xiu Xiu applies pop music to these topics well by speaking directly to the listener, letting you know it’s okay to feel pain because there’s millions of others out there suffering too, but just remember you’re not the only one, and suffering can be beautiful. It’s a bleak outlook but refreshingly honest, and it doesn’t hurt that you can dance to it too.
“Hi” by Xiu Xiu