Since its first album in 2002, Jamie Stewart's Xiu Xiu has vacillated between artfully pretentious and adventurously moving, but the group's albums have never been anything less than subversive, challenging pop conventions and wrestling with big issues such as faith, desire, self-doubt, life and death.
Xiu Xiu's seventh album of new material is among its best, embracing synth pop and avant-garde noisemaking more than ever, largely thanks to the increased contributions of producer Greg Saunier. Some might compare Stewart's multi-textured song-collages to glitchcore or laptop electronica, but these guys take it one step further, creating a few of the songs here on Nintendo DS.
Almost gone now are the early references of gamelan-style percussion, except for on the almost-freeform assault "Apple for a Brain" and the delightfully catchy "Chocolate Makes You Happy," which equates the sensuality of the title substance with a slightly kinky sexuality. "Grey Death" and "This Too Shall Pass Away" show Stewart exploring dark themes while balancing humor, self-loathing and redemption, all the while singing with a bombastic theatricality. Perhaps the most unlikely tune here is the folk standard "Cumberland Gap," which not only features a sprightly banjo but a bouncy Caribbean lilt. Expect the least expected from Xiu Xiu.