Xiu Xiu- Ignore Grief (Album Review)

March 6, 2023


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Xiu Xiu has been creating music that embodies the descriptors of experimental and avant-garde since 2002, often bringing in elements of post punk, pop, and sound collages to explore disturbing subject matter.  While some of their discography has had commonalities, it’s never felt like the group has repeated themselves and musically there is often a radical shift from one album to the next.  After 2021’s OH NO found founder Jamie Stewart and long-time member Angela Seo collaborating with a slew of other musicians and heading back into softer territory, the duo has pivoted back towards the bleak and noisy on Ignore Grief.  With ex-Devo drummer David Kendrick providing drums and percussion, the group explores elements of post industrial, death industrial, modern classical, and more while keeping a looser, abstract approach to their songwriting.  With writing split equally between Stewart and Seo, Ignore Grief often feels like it’s purposefully clashing in sound at points and while not every moment hits the mark this is still a powerful, eerie listen.

Those that first discovered Xiu Xiu on OH NO are likely in for a shock when they’re met with haunting, spaced-out instrumentation and bursts of noisy industrial on Ignore Grief’s first few tracks.  In some ways it feels like the group has picked up some of the grime and eeriness of 2019’s Girl With Basket of Fruit, but it’s run through a sparser, minimalist approach this time around.  Single “Maybae, Baeby” is what drew me in and convinced me to tackle this album after not following Xiu Xiu as closely for awhile, as the clanging layers and harsher bursts brought Throbbing Gristle, Pharmakon, and even Trepaneringsritualen to mind.  But even this track showcases Xiu Xiu’s more abstract and surrealist approach on this album, as the material doesn’t reach natural climaxes or flow the way you might expect.  The industrial elements often move from sparse sound collages and layers of noise that reverberate in the background to throbbing, driving beats that almost feel danceable for a minute or two, and then fade away just as they seem like they’re about to explode into something else.  At times it feels like death industrial and power electronics that have been chopped up and reformed into a David Lynch film soundtrack or other art score, as things don’t move linearly and Xiu Xiu is hinting at more details beneath the surface that may or may not make sense.  While the industrial elements are eerie and noisy, they don’t feel as outright scary or violent as say something like Agonal Lust (who had a jacked member cutting himself with a razor and trying to beat up the audience when I saw them live).  But there is that perpetual sense of dread and when the band touches upon this side of their sound on Ignore Grief, I’m drawn in by how it seems to be pushing and pulling you in many different directions until you’re almost at a breaking point.

If Angela’s contributions are where a lot of the industrial side came from, Jamie’s focus on modern classical as run through your deepest, darkest nightmares.  This is apparent right from the start of “666 Photos of Nothing”, where it sounds like an orchestra from hell is lurching forth with jarring and off-putting tonality.  It’s a brilliant song that psyches you out a few times, becoming so minimalist that you might think it’s actually ended before the layers come roaring back in with some unexpected flurries of piano.  Admittedly the other contributions in this style don’t always hit in the same way, sometimes expanding outwards in ways that come through as a bit too meandering.  At points you get the impression that these two sides of Xiu Xiu’s sound are purposefully meant to clash and collapse in on each other, as the classical elements are still rough and haunting but often much softer than their industrial counterparts.  But they don’t quite reach the same highs and don’t catch my attention quite as much upon repeat listens, even if the sense of tension is still there.

Xiu Xiu has often explored the worst elements of humanity and written lyrics about topics that other bands won’t touch, and Ignore Grief is described as exploring real topics that happened to people the members of the band are connected to alongside imaginary ones.  As is typical for the band, this isn’t handled in a straightforward way and you’ll need to dig into the lyrics if you want to try and unravel them, but there are specific lines in many of the songs that will stick out and have you do a double take.  This will take time, especially considering that the vocals are extremely buried on many of the songs.  Angela and Jamie’s contributions are sung very softly, or practically whispered into your ear, and they blend into the soundscapes at times as if they have had a nervous breakdown and are letting the noise overcome them.  There are some noticeable exceptions like “Maybae, Baeby” and “Tarsier, Tarsier, Tarsier, Tarsier”, but for much of the album you’re going to have to really work to unravel all the details.

Two decades in, Xiu Xiu continues to push musical boundaries in ways that only they can.  While the industrial elements remind me of a slew of power electronics and death industrial artists, when combined with the modern classical approach on other songs Ignore Grief still manages to sound unlike anything else out there.  Given our scales, this is a hard album to score as it’s not one I’d classify as “enjoyable”, but it’s fascinating and eerie in a way that has kept me coming back.  Some of the most minimalistic moments don’t hit the mark and get lost in the ether over repeat listens, but there’s a lot to dig into here and those willing to do so may just get lost in the grime and decay.  Ignore Grief is available from Polyvinyl Records.   

-Review by Chris Dahlberg