Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts: Red Classroom
Designed to sound dark, but with enough compelling moments to make the journey worthwhile
In 2012 Jamie Stewart, the creative force behind long-running noise-rock project Xiu Xiu, moved across the States from his home in North Carolina to Los Angeles. Unbeknown to him at the time, his new neighbourhood was notorious for gang violence, with a park divided among four tribes and, at the centre, a lake that was routinely dragged for bodies. The fear and claustrophobia of that new environment is stamped all over one of the bleakest records in Xiu Xiu's expansive and already infernal discography.
The album’s title is taken from a cult 1970s Japanese erotic-noir film that itself tackles pornographic taboos, and the album strives valiantly for, and occasionally finds, a similar sense of transgression. The whole thing has a very deliberate crassness about it, both in content and production aesthetic: recorded using analogue synths and 70s drum machines, it often sounds like a filthy spectre of Italo disco. There are hints of Liars’ most funereal tendencies, with a few shreds of noisy Swans genetics laced throughout, too, as monstrous tremors bleed across the whole album, convulsive and agitated like the horrors of outside clawing at the door.
There is a level of self-awareness in the dirge – the repetitive chorus of ‘Black Dick’, for instance, is so ludicrously trashy that it must be tongue-in-cheek – but it’s not always enough to alleviate the rigorous tension in these songs. Gaudy horror soundtrack elements help maintain dread, as bells toll for ‘EL Naco’ while creatures gnaw frantically on ‘Adult Friends’ and a chainsaw roars menacingly as the album draws to a close.
Stewart’s unnerving vocals continually switch between campy melodrama and bloodcurdling whispers, and on occasion the sheer oppressiveness of the atmosphere becomes overwhelming, mainly because he makes so few concessions to listeners’ comfort levels. Angel Guts is designed to sound like it comes from a dark, twisted place, but there are enough powerful moments to make it worthwhile trawling through that mire.