Xiu Xiu - Always
Record Label: Polyvinyl (US)/Bella Union (EU/UK)
Release Date: March 6, 2012 (Worldwide)/February 28, 2012 (EU/UK)
Twitter is interesting. It's very bittersweet. It's not only a way to receive information directly from the source, but a chance to look into your favorite musician's head. Sometimes it's all the same, and usually when a new album drops, it is all the same. This is probably my least favorite thing about Twitter. Every new album usually turns the unique connection the social networking site gives you into a marketing campaign. However, when Xiu Xiu's Always finally hit stores on March 6, the tweets that followed from Jamie Stewart's verified account included "have you ever had a day in which you slip down the stairs and scrape your butt cheeks up but it feels good like you have been spanked?" and "when you want to quit do you put on a jogging suit that says FUCK IT on the chest and pour motor oil all over it so you are extra flammable?" He asks a lot of questions, but he knows all the answers. He just wants to remind you that you don't, because you've never been fucked up enough to ask yourself. Should you ask yourself? While Stewart's following is small, his extreme fans are just that, extreme. It almost feels like a cult, and Always is the initiation he's been looking for.
The second verse of the opening track includes the line "If you don't know what to say, say hi." This is the essence of Xiu Xiu in one line. Stewart is clearly not normal, and to process any decision he makes, whether musically or personally, a very open mind is required. Always refuses to be spoon-fed, and while most of the music itself feels lighthearted, the pop potential of the music is bastardized by Stewart's ghost-like crooning about Satan's cock and a beloved hippopotamus. While the lyrics of Always are eccentric and anything but poetic, they have their blunt moments. On "I Luv Abortion", he states "When I look at my thighs I see death, it is great, I love abortion, I love abortion" with such relative nonchalance that it's easy to envision Rick Santorum vomiting in his own mouth, whether he can hear the song or not.
During the Third Reich, the Nazis created orchestras of prisoner-musicians who were forced to play upbeat, happy marching music for their friends and families reaching the gas chambers. Always is a concentration camp orchestra. Jamie Stewart is watching every person he loves die in front of him, has a gun in his face, and has to play and sing along as happily as possible to keep from reaching their fate. It's not an easy image to convey, but if anyone can do it, it's Stewart. On "Joey's Song", he sings of his own brother's domestic life over fanfare which would be considered joyous if any other man decided to vocally contribute to it. While the lyrics of this song (and most of Always) are difficult to interpret, the emotion is anything but so. This album is a roller coaster: it has its emotional ups and downs, sometimes vomiting occurs, but the fear is fun. For the listeners, at least.
Fabulous Muscles may be considered Xiu Xiu's magnum opus for years to come, and while it and Knife Play will remain on their critically acclaimed pedestals, Always is Xiu Xiu in its most necessarily accessible form. While Fabulous Muscles is a much easier listen, Always leaves new fans much more well-prepared. It will not reach popular acclaim, and it's clearly never meant to. It's not for everyone, and it's definitely not for a casual music listener. It's fucked up; there's no other way to put it. But it's all true. It is all the man behind the Twitter account few people know and love, the man who, with the correct platform, could leave the world speechless.