Cruel Summer

“I can’t stop punching my own face.” The line was buried in the pathos and hushed recollections of Xiu Xiu’s 2004 LP Fabulous Muscles, a total cliché that was nevertheless gripping when sung by Jamie Stewart, the group’s main brain. It must have been weird for him, the critical acclaim for a record about scarred adolescence and relationships gone haywire. Maybe that’s why Xiu Xiu’s new La Forêt is more insular. On “Mousey Toy” and “Clover,” Stewart’s falsetto is barely audible, dawdling in his voice box like he’s afraid for the lyrics to come out. “Pox” picks a different hiding place, its clatter of keyboards and flat guitars sounding appropriated from Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again. “You look so ready to kill me,” Stewart wails, and the instrumentation is harsh and pointed, like strobe-lit rust. “Saturn” and “Rose of Sharon [Grey Ghost Version]” are more experimental, with squelch dropping away to reveal creepily modified vocals and sweeping dirges of cellos and displaced noise that shift like the tides. It’s terribly gripping stuff. “Is that your glass heart clinking?” Stewart blares accusingly in “Ale,” and he’s so convincingly pissed that you feel like shit for hurting him. La Forêt: a cruel summer.

Johnny Loftus writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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