Favorite Track: "Rumpus Room (feat. Liars)" Least Favorite Track: "Knock Out (feat. Alice Bag)"
Few artists have been as proficient at pushing the musical envelope than Xiu Xiu. The project spearheaded by singer/songwriter Jamie Stewart and producer Angela Seo has long been known for their incredibly dark, drab, macabre, and often frightening brand of experimentalism, blending elements of rock, metal, pop, noise, and even some operatic vocal styles, to create one of the most hellish discographies known to music. Albums such as Knife Play and A Promise take a very stripped back approach, telling stories of abuse, love, loss, and depression, while albums like the infamous Girl with Basket of Fruit take a much more maximalist approach, turning up the noise elements to the highest degree whilst Jamie delivers some of his most bone-chilling performances to date. Xiu Xiu have not tended to keep to themselves in the past though, whether it be the noise collaboration album with famed noise producer Merzbow on MERZXIU, or their many takes on other artists music on Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks or their Nina Simone covers album, Nina. All this to say, when Xiu Xiu announced their “duets album” in the form of 2021’s OH NO, it was not surprising. Their chemistry with other artists has shone bright on past collaborations, so why not make an entire record composed of seamless chemistry?
Upon primary listen of OH NO, two things become apparent. One: Xiu Xiu have not lost their edge since 2019’s horrific Girl with Basket of Fruit. Their disturbing, manic, harrowing atmosphere is ever present, seeping from OH NO with an aggressive vengeance. Two; Some duets are a bit rough around the edges, but the record will not disappoint any long time Xiu Xiu fans. The lead singles “Rumpus Room (feat. Liars)” and “A Bottle of Rum (feat. Liz Harris)” were fantastic indicators of what the complete record would sound like, with the latter being a lush, beautiful track and the former being a raucous banger.
OH NO is a mix of all of Xiu Xiu’s best material, feeling almost like an anthology of sorts. The dark sadness from their first few records is back with a purpose on “Sad Mezcalita (feat. Sharon Van Etten)” and “I Dream of Someone Else Entirely (feat. Owen Pallett)” while some of their more harrowing and nightmarish styles show up in the form of “Fuzz Gong Fight” and “One Hundred Years (feat. Chelsea Wolfe)”, the latter being an incredibly dark and demented take on a classic song from The Cure. We then find tracks like the aforementioned “Rumpus Room (feat. Liars)” which is magnificently groovy despite its oddity, and has the potential to be dubbed Xiu Xiu’s most danceable track to date.
This “anthology of styles” that is present on OH NO is great for those who already enjoy Xiu Xiu, but from a critical standpoint, it can be a bit tough to justify the unfocused mess that is OH NO. The tracks are great while they’re on, but when the record is finished after fifty-three minutes, the lack of aim leaves the listener feeling a bit confused, almost as if they had listened to a random playlist of Xiu Xiu’s greatest hits and not a cohesive album. Some tracks feel somewhat out of place, and there are even a few flat out duds that go absolutely nowhere, which shows up in the form of “A Classic Screw (feat. Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo)” and the absolute snoozer that is “Knock Out (feat. Alice Bag)”.
However, do not let the duo’s somewhat disjointed approach on this album deter you from listening to OH NO. There are a plethora of highlights present on the record, and despite it being painfully rough around the edges, there could be a genuine case made for it being one of Xiu Xiu’s most well-produced and endearing records. The content of the record is far more accessible for new fans to start with as opposed to the freakish Girl with Basket of Fruit or the crushingly depressing vignettes of A Promise, and making a record that can introduce skeptics to the magnificent experimental world of madness that is Xiu Xiu is a feat in and of itself.