When choosing singles to entice listeners prior to a studio album’s release, artists usually try to lead with their forthcoming record’s strongest material. Which is why when California experimental art rockers Xiu Xiu picked the wildly chaotic and largely percussive “Scisssssssors” and the antagonistically sample-heavy and punishingly industrial “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy”, two decidedly difficult and abrasive moments, to tease their 2019 LP, it became immediately obvious that the band’s latest full-length, Girl with Basket of Fruit, was going to be a collection more akin to their noisy, Suicide-inspired 2014 record, Angel Guts: Red Classroom, and less like the more accessible FORGET from two years past.
Girl with Basket of Fruit opens with the title track that begins the aural assault, pummeling with short, stabbing blasts before frontman Jamie Stewart begins maniacally shouting absurd lyrics like, “Her boob gets so floppy, she uses it as a fan to wave away his sickening B.O.” Stewart’s absurdist shouting continues into “It Comes Out as a Joke”. Aside from a brief moment of mumble-humming, “hubba, hubba, hubba, aha,” it isn’t until we’re a third of the way into GwBoF, with the track “Amargi ve Moo”, that we hear any actual singing. Over a suffering cello, Stewart intones airily, “I am not ready, and cannot accept, that it is spread like a cancer,” before he launches into what can only be described as a long “blub-blub-blub” tongue trill you might expect to hear from a bratty seven-year-old. And, yes, it’s as embarrassing to listen to as you might expect. The record’s first half ends with “Ice Cream Truck”, a largely percussive affair that has Stewart sounding like an overmodulated drunkard, occasionally screaming and mindlessly plucking at an acoustic guitar.
The aforementioned single, “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy”, closes out side A. The track consists entirely of lyrics made up of bizarre vocal samples that may or may not have something to do with a Korean creation myth and manages to sound downright radio-friendly when held up against the album’s challenging first four tracks. The poignant and shockingly detailed “Mary Turner, Mary Turner” details the gruesome lynching of African-American couple Hazel and Mary Turner. It’s a rightfully brutal moment that ends with Jamie bluntly stating, “Fuck your guns, fuck your war, fuck your truck, fuck your flag.” Girl with Basket of Fruit is concluded with “Normal Love”, a ballad that is unarguably the record’s most accessible song. Over sparse, gentle piano and woozy backing vocals provided by Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson, Stewart delicately sings, “I think I have shown, I don’t need it to be fair, I think I have shown you, I don’t need you to be kind.”
Overall, Xiu Xiu’s eleventh studio album is an often punishing and difficult listen. It’s only saving grace may be that it’s kept to a merciful thirty-six-minute running time. Given that the group’s last proper full length, FORGET, was as welcoming as it was makes one wonder if the band will attempt to leapfrog in terms of releases, with the odd numbered albums being the more experimental. Regardless, Girl with Basket of Fruit is far from an easy listen, and it’s difficult to imagine even diehard Xiu Xiu fans enjoying this record casually. Still, Jamie Stewart continues to push the envelope, and followers expecting the unexpected won’t be disappointed.