Godhead of Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart, wants to bang on your eardrums with whatever scrap metal he’s got lying around and moan, closely, in your ear while he does it. Angel Guts: Red Classroom, the group’s ninth, is a tortuous, carnal art-rock listening experience.
The odd title is shared with the Japanese erotic film by Chūsei Sone–the inspiration for the album. The plot of the film, from 1979, follows a love affair between a writer and his subject, a troubled pornstar. Sounds about right. Thematically and musically the album throttles the usual dark melodies and incantations Xiu Xiu (and, really, only Xiu Xiu) has come to be known for. The key difference here is the noise, noise, noise.
It’s a lowly simmer to start. The first song “Angel Guts:” sounds like wind recorded through a cheap microphone, barely hovering above audible. “Archie’s Fades” evokes desperation with its lurching drone and Stewart’s low-registering ache. On “Stupid In The Dark” raw driving drums keep the pace while Stewart jaws manically, shushing the sound around him when he wants your full attention.
The Xiu Xiu formula is perfectly assimilated here. The palette of sound is very lean. Only analog synthesizers, drum machines and a drum set were used, making it much more sonically straightforward than past albums. With Angel Guts, the racket is the emphasis, the crushing weight of Stewart’s tumultuous thoughts. Twisted, alarming, industrial scrap sound blankets every song and sometimes overtake it to the point of devastation. It’s not always the best. Mostly, it lacks the songs that make a listener quiver with an unredeemable sadness (see: “PJ In The Streets…,” “Clover,” “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl”).
Stewart’s absurdist erotic, oftentimes discomforting, lyrics still come through in whispers and wails and climactic releases. He’s the beast of his own work. His oddball clenching need for abject sex is still strong, especially on the song without a hint of metaphor, “Black Dick.” He snarls and orders for the expansive manhood of a negro male like he’s lying on his side and it’s the only cure to his anguish. It gets weird.
The last half of the album is all sonic combustion, Stewart’s voice growing more panicked. “Lawrence Liquors” is pure war. The enemy is nigh. Helicopter blades cut through the jackhammer beat and distorted owls coo. Shrieking feedback assails “Adult Friends,” as if the wires were splintered, barely functioning. Menacing organ swells with a blunted drum walk on “A Knife In The Sun” until it dissolves in torrential screams from all sides.
Every song on Angel Guts, from start to finish, morphs steadily into an urgent insanity. Play this loudly in your home and your guests will have heart attacks. People will shriek in their seats, maybe pull a gun on you. The final sound heard is a buzz-saw, plain, without effects, cutting right through your stupid head sideways. It is not pleasant.
Angel Guts: Red Classroom is released February 4 on Polyvinyl. It comes on the high-heels of Nina, a strange hushed collection of Nina Simone covers released last December on Graveface.