Articulating the inherent hazards of sexual privilege comes naturally to the patron saint of art rock alienation Jamie Stewart. Emerging from the Californian mountains as the de facto autocrat behind Xiu Xiu, Stewart, with ongoing assistance from Angela Seo, has for the last 19 years, presented an ambitious accumulation of sordid anecdotes, each one filled with existential desire and despair, informed by queer theory in a tumbleweed of unbending discordant clatter. Using a whispered singing style that musters up thoughts of a panic-stricken Donald Sinden battling allergies, and a counteracting musical smokescreen of naive electronic squall and ostentatious feedback, their 12 albums and countless EPs appear to have been made using instruments sourced from toyshops and jumble sales.
When you listen back through an artist's back catalogue you normally pick out a running theme. Whilst I listen through the previous 11 releases of Jamie Stewart's Xiu Xiu project, less of a band more of a revolving door for the gifted and outcast, the thing that stood out was the beauty of the music. Even if the times were hard. Yes, it was peppered were brutalist motifs but there is always a beauty to it.
It's difficult to be a Xiu Xiu fan, mostly because it means you have to listen to so much Xiu Xiu music. Sharon Van Etten seems to acknowledge this at the beginning of OH NO, when she asks Jamie Stewart: "What were you doing there, so un-anxious to be liked?" That's the question regarding a glorious, terrible, improbable body of work that has shades of The Velvet Underground, Suicide, and Einstürzende Neubauten but really sounds only like itself. Though Xiu Xiu is now a duo with Angela Seo, Stewart is the lifetime member.
If you've heard "A Bottle of Rum," the dreamy first single from Oh No featuring Grouper's Liz Harris, then you may have been suckered into imagining Xiu Xiu are going soft on us. No such reprieve (the clue is there in the title). An album of duets, Oh No is as prickly and confrontational as much of Xiu Xiu's discography, with the guest vocalists blending into Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo's nightmarish soundworld to such an extent that it can be difficult to discern outside involvement.