Listening to Xiu Xiu for the first time is like stepping into the shower after setting the heat too high. Every inch of you, from your shins to your shoulders, wants you to leave. You might feel it in your chest, a pressure forcing the air out of your lungs, blocking any more from getting in. Just as you begin thinking you can’t bear it anymore, you realize you don’t need to. It no longer hurts. Your skin is crimson, but you’re the most relaxed you’ll be for the rest of the day.
“Girl With Basket of Fruit” marks Xiu Xiu’s 11th studio album, and it’s undeniably their darkest. The record is the auditory equivalent of a horror movie, with tribal drum patterns that build incredible tension, and surreal ambient passages that leave you anxiously awaiting the next terrifying motif. It’s a record that thrives on anxiety; the songs themselves were borne from it and they incite it in their listeners.
This anxious energy is what propels the listener through “Girl With Basket of Fruit.” Each of the nine tracks brings something to the table and given enough space I could praise them each ad nauseam. The title track, for instance, is a fantastic start to the record. With an industrial take on those tribal drum patterns, it immediately had my fingers and feet tapping. It also features probably the most traditional song structure on the record, with the challenge primarily coming from the group’s founder, Jamie Stewart’s seemingly gibberish vocals. Even without understanding what’s being said, everything works together to create one of the most gripping tracks on a record full of them.
“Mary Turner Mary Turner” is both the most disturbing song on the record and also the most powerful. It tells the story of Mary Turner, a pregnant woman who was lynched in Georgia in 1918. She and her unborn child were murdered shortly after she spoke out publicly against the lynching of her husband. I won’t detail the terrible things that happened to her in this review, but it was an unfathomably horrific incident and this song stays very true to that. Understanding this event, and the other subject matter that informs “Girl With Basket of Fruit,” is integral to getting the full experience from it.
Much of the imagery in “Girl With Basket of Fruit” has been explained to some small extent by Stewart in a piece he did for Talkhouse. In the piece, he describes the album as being the “internal effects of internal events: reactions to and explorations of other peoples’ texts.” That is to say, the band created sounds and moods and lyrics from what they were seeing in other artists’ work. I encourage listeners to follow along with this piece as they listen, to have those images fresh in their minds, and to create your own thoughts and feelings and meanings behind them.
“Girl With Basket of Fruit” is an incredibly challenging listen. It is sad, noisy, disturbing and it is certainly not for everyone (or even most people). Sometimes, though, we need our art to be challenging. Even when the world around us is difficult, we need art that holds us down and rubs our noses in the filth around us. Then, when the last note plays and we lift ourselves up, we can be that much stronger for it.
10/10 – Repeated listens are not only warranted but demanded. Among the best albums of the decade.