Xiu Xiu’s FORGET marks a change for the ever elusive Jamie Stewart and co – following on from 2016’s Plays the Music of Twin Peaks cover album, the experimental rock have now moved in a new direction. FORGET is easily their most accessible album yet. Although still far from conventional, Xiu Xiu trade out the avant-jazz ambience on Twin Peaks for noise pop and abrasive electronic rock.
The first sounds you hear on FORGET are unforgettable – a violently sexual intro of “You wanna whisper in my ear, bitch? / But I don’t give a fuck, girl” – where opener The Call goes from there is equal parts jarring and catchy. Stewart croons over electronic percussion and waves of synthesizers, building into beautiful noise. Glitchy vocal samples complement the rest of the mix, crying “Clap bitches, clap clap clap, bitches, clap” over and over. The coming together of all these elements is a strong start for FORGET.
Xiu Xiu’s new pseudo-psych pop angle, whether intentional or not, make this album far more accessible than anything else in their discography. Despite this, FORGET never yields in its ideas, instead exploring new styles throughout its ten tracks. Wondering is a surprisingly inviting track, with a captivating groove and certain catchiness about it. Xiu Xiu refuses to compromise their vision – catchy choruses are rife with distortion and while the music may at times embrace a level of conventionality, it’s never for long, and always attached to heavy abrasiveness that will take new listeners time to accustom themselves to.
In terms of musicality, FORGET seems to often be at times Xiu Xiu’s most uplifting and upbeat project – but in terms of lyricism, it’s far from that. Queen of the Losers seems epic and empowering at first, but deciphering Stewart’s distorted lyrics reads “Everyone loves you / The pain has just begun / And everyone hates you” – melancholia and sadness are always within arm’s reach on FORGET. A sense of otherness and the outsider permeates this album, its lyrics, and the music. Tracks like Hay Choco Bananas and At Last, At Last almost imitate gloomy experimental funeral dirges, tinged by electronica and a sense of mistrust and abandonment. Structurally and in terms of musicality, FORGET is a very different project than the band’s previous effort on Twin Peaks, but similar ideas are prevalent throughout both albums.
FORGET is an album of contrasts; between abrasiveness and invitation; between empowerment and abandonment; between lushness and minimalism. On so many of these tracks, Xiu Xiu capture these dichotomies perfectly. Get Up seems moody, subtle, and perhaps somewhat jazzy, while Jenny GoGo is abrasive and lingers on senses of brooding confusion. Standout title track Forget is easily the album’s height – it begins restrained, but slowly builds, culminating in tense moments as Stewart wails “FORGET! FORGET!” Few tracks are as thick and lush as this one, breeding frightening and fast paced motifs as scales ascend and descend and ascend and descend. Listeners are left constantly lost in its madness, but drawn in and hungering for more.
Closing track Faith, Torn Apart envelopes and resolves this sense of overbearing melancholia ever present throughout FORGET – feedback and noise serve as choral backing for Stewart’s lyrical philosophizings on mortality, while these layers of gloomy moan samples thicken everything up. For its final three minutes, Xiu Xiu sums up FORGET perfectly as famed drag queen and experimental musician Vaginal Davis closes out the track with a poetry recital (reminiscent of closer Josie’s Past from Twin Peaks.) Every concept of otherness and outsiders that Xiu Xiu so perfectly capture with their music is resolved in FORGET’s final moments, as Davis reads “It doesn’t matter what you think / Do anything you like / Because I was born dead / And I was born to die.”
On FORGET, Xiu Xiu have released what is not just one of their most accessible and easy(ier) to digest albums, but one of their strongest and most evocative releases yet. While it may not reach the heights of experimentation found on Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, FORGET is in its own way a unique and innovative album.