Constraint has never fit into Jamie Stewart's vocabulary. From the obscene lyrics of 'Fabulous Muscles' to the disgusting video for “Dear God, I Hate Myself,” shock has always been an assumed element to Xiu Xiu's image. Well, maybe shock is too superficial of a word. Because to Stewart, provocation is the simplest way to channel truth and ecstasy. He makes honesty the underpinning theme of his art – a raw honesty that has kept him a celebrated musician for well over a decade now.
On 'Always', stories of molestation, death, self-loathing and addiction are served on a plate of Dark Synth Disco. But as Stewart spoon-feeds us these dark obsessions, we are often overwhelmed with the amount of ingredients he crams into each song. The opener, “Hi,” features a foot tapping melody while bombarding us with Xiu Xiu's signature moaning, 8-bit blips, and piercing frequencies.“Joey's Song” follows in the same fashion as one of his catchiest tunes yet, but the samples of a children's chorus that start the song eventually turn into a bass-driven, synth-crazy whirlwind of chaos. Though, not all the tracks on 'Always' fall into the genre of flashy, ugly pop; some are possibly Stewart's most beautiful works to date. Take “The Oldness,” which features tender pianos, glimmering harpsichords, and operatic vocals. Or “Factory Girls,” a wistful ballad laced with finger picking guitars and a whispering Jamie Stewart.
While it's obvious Stewart's grasp on complex production is maturing, too often the tracks on 'Always' are either utterly enthralling or immediately daunting. We don't see his fusion of existential moaning and extravagant pop reaching nearly the same caliber as it previously has on albums like 'Fabulous Muscles' (2004). This time the weaving between ear piercing noise and tear drenched ballads only takes us on a bipolar listening ride with no direction in sight.
Standout Tracks: Joey's Song, Honeysuckle, The Oldness