Dark Passions & Deep Secrets. Xiu Xiu, Always.

The ever-capricious, openly extroverted Jamie Stewart would never be heard seeping through crumby speakers in your nearest cornershop coffee stop thus in certain respects latest long-player Always is, as one may accurately envisage, a record bristling with extreme time signatures and oft incongruous instrumentation. However throughout his first effort for Bella Union Stewart delves deeper into the genuinely disquieting disturbia that's long-since haunted his esoteric avant-garde experimentations, rooting out dark passions and deep-seated secrets as he worms, exhuming such stuff from its general unearthliness like legs and limbs reclaimed from cold and crumbled dirt.

Having stumbled through Stewart's notoriously loosely-hinged swinging door of creativity prior to the completion of 2010's schismatic Dear God, I Hate Myself, however improbable it may still seem accomplice Angela Seo has managed to cling on in there. Yet perhaps now more than ever previously Xiu Xiu is Jamie Stewart and Stewart is Xiu Xiu, with said entities no longer in any way extricable. And for evidence of this look no further than the intimate disconcertion of the hollow poetics within The Oldness, on which Stewart sounds as desolately lonely as the glummest of clouds. In place of rapports with fellow beings or humans (beyond the odd indeterminate "you"), much of Always revolves around his relationship with the corporeal, or the characterless body: from the sexual alarm of the subtly discordant Factory Girl that's subversive to the point of making Rufus Wainwright's Gay Messiah sound like sermon, to the operatic apocalyptica of album closer Black Drum Machine during which Stewart staunchly affirms that "your brother was the first boy inside of you" and that "your father was the first man inside of you" (besides asserting: "Your body is all your own/ Keep it away from mine" as if his weren't tarnished by even the slightest blemish) we here encounter a work that is as disjointed from human kindness (thus to a certain degree becoming inhuman) as it is intermittently inhumane.

And never is this more patent than on the Chapman Family-like fury of I Luv Abortion which, although sounding akin to the rusty scratch of screws loosening, proves perturbingly compelling. Suffused with random interludes of sketchy instrumentation and prominent Baskerville hound baying it's a moment to dislocate the 'rock' from Xiu Xiu's hackneyed 'art rock' stigmatisation, compounding the salient distresses within an accomplished if estranging effort. Thus despite the ebullience of its entrancing opening pong-like synths (Hi) or the only mildly portentous choral austerity and overpowering cyberspatial Neon Neon-ish sheen to the segueing Joey's Song, Always is a record buried in bleak terrain, and inhibiting anxiety, and the insecurities of both mind and body. For although Xiu Xiu are two, they are but one soma and that outlandishly eccentric figure here attracts with the grim repellence of the oil-based mutilation spewed across sprawling canvas by the late Lucian Freud. Stewart's seemingly no longer compos mentis and that's far from detrimental to his otherworldly powers to discompose.