By Mackenzie Akin
Artist: Xiu Xiu
Album: Girl with Basket of Fruit
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Xiu Xiu forces listeners to open their eyes by listening with their ears in the band’s newest album release Girl with Basket of Fruit. At first listen this album is messy. The lyrics come across as belligerent and crude and the instrumentals are complete chaos. The vocals are discombobulating, ranging anywhere from shaky, jagged whispering to desperate cries and yells. It feels as if the album was created by aliens who had never heard or made music in their life. But, taking a closer look, there is a lesson to be learned from the mess. Digging through the clutter of sound, the listener can find that there is a message to be heard and a story to be told. There is a reason, and a specific placement for every crack, note, scream and bang. Girl with Basket of Fruit evokes extreme emotion through organized chaos and shows that sometimes, the purpose of art is not to enjoy it, but to understand it.
The album starts with a punching jolt and a kick to the stomach with the title track “Girl with Basket of Fruit.” Tribal drums bang frantically and band member Jamie Stewart yells lyrics out with desperation, fear, and every emotion in between. The upbeat pace pumps adrenaline into the listeners system and somehow simulates the feeling of something close to paranoia. “Girl with Basket of Fruit” is a cold hand, gripping your shoulder and yanking you into the album. The lyrics are dripping in symbolism and if we take a closer look, they seem to allude to feminism in the modern world. In an interview with Pop Matters, Stewart explained that those who are familiar with the Caravaggio painting Boy with Basket of Fruit will recognize that Xiu Xiu switched the gender to come up with their album name. Stewart confirms that the album name is, in fact a commentary on feminism, so it would be appropriate to assume that many of the lyrics throughout the album nod to feminist themes. These lyrics are absolutely jaw dropping and paint a gory scene for the listener. Although gory, I feel that lyrics like these are necessary. Mixed with the instrumentals, the lyrics create a very real sense of what it’s like to be scared, powerless and fighting for life.
Just when you think you’ve wrapped your head around the first track, the second track “It Comes Out as a Joke” begs the question of whether or not Xiu Xiu’s lyrics should actually be taken seriously. The lyrics “jerking it to mush” can be heard in both the first and second tracks yet in “It Comes Out as a Joke,” “jerking it to mush” is following by the lyric “that’s the funny part,” it seems that this callback to the lyrics cancels out the feminist call-to-action the lyrics in the first track possessed. Xiu Xiu seems to say that it doesn’t matter what is said, it will always be taken as a joke. The song leads with eerie, displaced electric guitar strums and haunting, circus-like harmonium notes. The instruments create a feeling of novelty and sarcasm but, towards the end, tribal drums from the first track kick in and Stewart’s screams crash into the scene. There, the listener is transitioned into the painfully slow and rustic violin strings of “Armagi ve Moo.” The single string notes give listeners a momentary breather from chaotic, heavy layered instrumentals but are eventually interrupted by Stewart turning lyrics into blubbering gibberish as if he were pushing his index finger up and down his lips like a child.
In FORGET, Xiu Xiu’s second latest album release, it’s easy to hear similarities when compared to Girl with Basket of Fruit. Stewart’s vocals are still unsettling and shaky but the instrumentals are a completely different experience. FORGET holds back from what Girl with Basket of Fruit performs. FORGET possesses a sense of beat and melody. The listener can enjoy the danceability the spunky electro-pop beats provide that are not heard in the latest album. This allows for the listener to appreciate FORGET for the meaning as well as the musicality. Girl with Basket of Fruit takes shaky vocals and chaotic instrumentals from the album before it and completely runs with them. Girl with Basket of Fruit has absolutely no fear and slaps the listener in the face with the depth of reality. Girl with Basket of Fruit adds the production efforts of band member Angela Seo and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier as well as a sizable list of other vocalist and musicians such as Elliot Reed, Devin Hoff, Ches Smith and many others. This large of a collaborative effort has not been seen on earlier albums and adds to the production value of the album as a whole. With this many artists, it feels that the album has an incredible sense of variety in artistic expression that earlier works don’t show.
In earlier works, Xiu Xiu wrote albums that were loosely up for interpretation. Often times, artists will leave their work up to interpretation in expectation that different people will see their work in different ways. Girl with Basket of Fruit takes this idea and completely dismantles it. Each song is about a specific event, feeling or person. “Mary Turner, Mary Turner” one of the most jarring tracks on the album, tells the story of the lynching of African-American couple Hazel Turner and Mary Turner. The lyrics are repetitive, digging the events into the listener’s brain. Xiu Xiu has made it obvious that this song is about a specific event and is bluntly referencing the topic of racism. It is no surprise that the band’s name originated from the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. This film contains explicit subject matter that is extremely hard to watch yet is still a very real reality. Xiu Xiu truly comes into their name with this track as well as the album as a whole, creating music that forces listeners to face harsh truths about the world around them.
Finally, the album comes to an end with “Normal Love.” The simple flow of the piano keys paired with a hint of cello and soft, mournful vocals makes for a song that is absolutely devastating in the most beautiful and way possible. After 8 tracks of chaos it seems that there is no end in sight but “Normal Love” allows for a deep inhale of breath. Yet, even in this deep breath, the emotion is overwhelming. “Normal Love” gives a moment of reflection and acts as a satisfying ending to an intense series of events.
Girl with Basket of Fruit is hard to swallow. It forces listeners to turn their heads towards the terrible things we try to forget. If at first, you don’t like it, give the album another listen. Each song in this album is beautifully horrible, but that’s the point. Going through the entire album is emotionally exhausting but the payoff is worth it. This album is art in its rawest, grittiest, dirtiest form. This album has no fear and will never apologize. This album is a terrifying leap into the abyss of the infinite possibilities that can be created by sound. Girl with Basket of Fruit is entirely worth the listen as long as listeners actively keep an open mind.