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Xiu Xiu - Girl With Basket of Fruit Music Album Reviews

The duo’s latest speeds between fragmented beats and mournful balladry but rarely makes an impression beyond its sound and fury.

Girl With Basket of Fruit at least sounds incredible. Across nine uniformly taut tracks, Xiu Xiu slash into and race out of growling viola drones and battered hip-hop junkyards, smoldering torch songs and noise confessionals, racing against some apocalyptic countdown clock. “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” puffs its chest and raises its fist like Death Grips entering the octagon; “Amargi ve Moo” reimagines a world where Lou Reed and John Cale never had rock band ambitions. Musically aggressive and texturally provocative, these songs shape a vertiginous whole: As your head spins, you can imagine the minds of Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo racing through the possibilities.

But that is, with some exceptions, where the thrill ends. After that early-onset dizziness subsides, Girl With Basket of Fruit loses its power and makes little impact, as if these songs were menacing storm clouds that simply drift into and out of town without leaving a trace. It is heavy but hollow, muscular but oddly meaningless, built with streams of images that, however vivid, are the lyrical equivalent of inert gas inside combustion chambers. During the wonderfully frenetic opener, Stewart shouts about sagging breasts used as body fans and frogs and fleas shoved in assholes, the provocations of an 8-year-old’s wildest short story. During “Scisssssssors,” the tessellated rhythms of Haitian drummers and squiggling samples bounce like popcorn in a skillet, a setting as fascinating as it is tumultuous. But Stewart drowns intriguing fragments about existential erasure and mortal fear in obscure phrases, reciting wisdom from a codex for one.

When Stewart has less cover, though, or when the volume subsides and the production opens to reveal a wider frame, he offers something that lingers. With a falsetto that seems to be fighting tears and swallowing pride, he sings sweetly of a dying loved-one for “Amargi ve Moo.” And the finale, “Normal Love,” ranks as one of the most affecting moments in Xiu Xiu’s vast catalog, a downcast ballad that longs for acceptance as a manifestation of love, for validation more than a Valentine. He tangles esoteric phrases with raw vulnerability, making the struggle personal and real. “I think I have shown you/I don’t need it to be fair/I think I have shown you/I don’t need it to be kind,” he and Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson trade, their voices choked by a desperate sort of soul. “Just let me pretend I have something to lose.” It is a breathtaking revelation, a gut-punch, and an anomaly on Girl With Basket of Fruit.

Xiu Xiu feel like a band readymade for these times. The issues that have been on their lips for decades—blind nationalism, religious servility, reproductive rights, personal freedom, human fairness—now ripple through the pieces of this ripped international landscape. But Stewart and Seo turn inward and insular here, smearing themselves in a camouflage of inside jokes and outlandish images. They blend in with the din, adding to it.

The lone exception comes with “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” a hellscape of bells and bass so blown out it corrodes the beat around it. Stewart forces his way through the traumatic terror of a pregnant Georgia mother, his voice claustrophobic and curdled inside the orchestrated madness. A mob of angry white men ruthlessly lynched, burned, and mutilated her a century ago for protesting her husband’s murder. Ripped from the womb, her unborn child died on the ground. Stewart wrestles with this emblematic American atrocity, his voice splintering as he shoulders its ugly truth. He pulls the scenario out of the past and into the present, daring us to stare into the cracked mirror of history. It is one of too few moments here where the sound and fury push us to reconsider our humanity, not obfuscate it with prurient imagery and associative bluster that seem self-satisfied in their isolation.

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