Few albums will hurt you this bad.
After the release of Daughter’s masterpiece, You Won’t Get What You Want, which stole the album of the year slot for “The 20 Best Albums of 2018” on this site, it would be reasonable to suspect that the world of experimental and dark music might take a while to muster something to contend with the last leviathan. Truly devastatingly dark albums, after all, don’t come around too often–at least if we consider only the few that are undeniably great. Albums like Sunn o)))’s Black One, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch, and, yes, Daughter’s You Won’t Get What You Want, are rare treats for treasuring, and often must satisfy us for long dry stretches. I was expected quite a wait. I was wrong.
Enter Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart’s experimental band birthed way back in 2002.
Some people said that listening to You Won’t Get What You Want was a fright. I can concede that there were some hair-raising moments, such as Alexis Marshall’s convincing “let me in!” on the track “Guest House,” but something reaches up to stop me before I can call the album truly “frightening.” Bish Bosch is frightening. “Shaking Hell” from Sonic Youth’s Confusion is Sex is frightening. Allan Pettersson’s sixth symphony is frightening. You Won’t Get What You Want is dense, emotional, and harrowingly gorgeous, but it isn’t frightening.
Xiu Xiu’s 2019 release, Girl with Basket of Fruit, is fucking frightening.
Every track on this album (minus only the last one, “Normal Love,”) leaves splatter patterns sure to perplex even the keenest of forensic investigators. Xiu Xiu pushes the increasingly popular glitched-and-grimed aesthetic well past ten without sounding like Death Grips, and that alone would something to celebrate were this album not a moving experience in its own right. Girl with Basket of Fruit reaches in with both arms up to the elbows and walks away dripping, leaving you behind to writhe with your wounds in the dirt.
While, in retrospect, one can impose a sort of narrative leading up to this moment in Xiu Xiu’s career based on their previous albums–particularly in considering 2014’s Angel Guts–there really is nothing in 2017’s Forget that could’ve prepared you for this. In short, if you’re familiar with the glitchy pop Xiu Xiu of the past, beware. You’re in for something closer to a Swans album than a pop album with Girl with Basket of Fruit, and dark music fanatics certainly couldn’t be happier with the new direction.
While all the tracks are pummeling, disorienting, surreal, and deeply unsettling, “Mary Turner Mary Turner” manages to stand out as an experience sure to become a benchmark in dark music, much like “SDSS1416=13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)” from Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch. It retells the story of Mary Turner, a black woman lynched in Lowndes County, Georgia for protesting the lynching of her own husband. Stewart’s wild, drunken, and distorted spoken-word reenactment of this harrowing bit of history blasts fearsomely over wild percussion and groaning industrial bass drones sure to shock even seasoned weird music fans.
“Mary Turner Mary Turner” is striking example of dramatized atrocity. It’s a lynching-gone-horror-film, and it won’t sit comfortably with most listeners. Luckily, it isn’t supposed to. While on one hand, given the excessively melodramatic presentation, this track may come across as somewhat calloused and tasteless, it is the closest you can come to witnessing something so horrible yourself. History is a Wikipedia article, a bookmark that serves to coldly remind us of what’s already transpired. “Mary Turner Mary Turner” lends flesh and blood to the event, reanimating it in a way that places listeners squarely before the sheer evil in their own heritage. Yes, that may sound a bit Hawthornian, but it’s rare and worth celebration indeed when music can enact such a towering psychic image.
Of course, not everything on Girl with Basket of Fruit is as strong as “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” (which would be thoroughly impossible) but the album is certainly a must-have for anyone who enjoys truly dark and forward-thinking music. Unless 2019 miraculously turns into a more musically fruitful year than 2018, this album is bound to stand at the forefront of the throng. Get this thing.
-Justin A. Burnett