Flowers of evil

Real tragedy and pop tragedy clash in Xiu Xiu’s lyrics.

Keri Carlson

The point was never to be depressing,” said Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart, “but to be open and honest.”

It just so happens since the band’s formation over three years ago, things have been pretty terrible both politically and in the band’s personal lives. Xiu Xiu holds nothing back, making their brutal honesty with touches of deadpan humor, at times, very uncomfortable. Lines like “Cremate me after you cum on my lips / honey boy place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench,” will make you chuckle while shifting nervously in your chair.

The band took their name from Joan Chen’s film “Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl.” Stewart said, “We were finding all of the songs we were writing, subject wise, were bleak and had no resolution. (Xiu Xiu) is one of the few movies I have seen that’s so tragic and so many terrible things happen to the main character. Someone even shoots her at the end.”

Much of Xiu Xiu’s music embodies this outlook. Lingering amniotic drones swim in distortion while Stewart whispers timidly a story of a broken home. The band’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” on last year’s “A Promise” captures the uncertainty and dissolution of the characters as Stewart’s voice is supported by only a slow and lightly plucked acoustic guitar.

Xiu Xiu’s latest album, “Fabulous Muscles,” takes on a pop sensibility that’s distinct from their previous albums.

“I’m just a really big fan of pop songs I guess,” said Stewart. “Structurally and musically. It was not something decided consciously, we write songs the way we like.”

Stewart said he has been listening to everything from the R&B pop gem du jour “Milkshake” by Kelis along with quirky indie rockers 7 Year Rabbit Cycle and his “dorky academic classical music.”

This unlikely mix of styles makes “Fabulous Muscles” Xiu Xiu’s most compelling album to date. Xiu Xiu’s experimental modern classical style with long, dissonant notes remains with several melodies layered over each other. Now synth glitches and a chugging drum machine create a more substantial structure.

Stewart’s confrontational and candid lyrics have become even more powerful. “Support Our Troops OH! (Black Angels OH!)” proves Xiu Xiu is not just concerned with their personal issues.

As guitars slowly leak ear-bleeding shrieks, Stewart said in a monotone voice, “Did you know you were going to shoot off the top of a four-year-old girl’s head and look across her car seat down into her skull.” The song was inspired after seeing a journalist interviewing troops who basically confessed they had interests in killing. “This is not like Vietnam,” says Stewart, “where the soldiers didn’t have a choice. We are supporting people who are choosing to kill for a right-wing government.”

Stewart said, “The last six months, things have worked themselves out and some other things turned out positively.” Maybe the next Xiu Xiu album will be a bit easier to digest. But for now, Xiu Xiu is what is needed in music. If it’s unsettling, it is because we do not live in a settling world. Besides, if you need escapism, that’s what pop radio is there for.