Jamie Stewart and crew celebrated the tenth anniversary of Xiu Xiu's formation with Always, an album that sounds like the culmination of where the band has been and what they mean to their listeners. Indeed, Always is dedicated to the band's fans -- as if the cover image of a fan's Xiu Xiu tattoo wasn't enough of a hint -- and many of the best moments feel like rallying cries for them. "Hi" kicks things off with one of the album's most obvious love letters to Xiu Xiu's devoted, as Stewart goes through a roll call of the outcasts and the heartbroken, while "Born to Suffer" and "Honey Suckle," a duet with Angela Seo, both use synth strings and brass to emphasize their anthemic sweep. The band's confrontational, political edge was subtler on Dear God, I Hate Myself, but it comes roaring back to the fore on Always. Stewart's gift for boiling issues and emotions down to their purest and often most uncomfortable states is as brilliant as ever, particularly on "I Luv Abortion," which finds him at his most abrasive and baiting as he howls with righteous sarcasm, "You were too good for this life!" "Factory Girl," which sums up the unending toil of a Chinese factory worker with the line "you won't go to heaven, you'll just go to work," is one of Xiu Xiu's bleakest songs -- which, as fans know, is saying something. Overall, though, Always is a remarkably strong batch of songs even for a band as well-known for its dedication to its aesthetic and ideals as this one is. "Joey's Song" is classic Xiu Xiu, a duel between a gorgeous melody and caustic textures and words; "Beauty Towne"'s rush of lush sounds and bruised emotions underscores how much artists like Cold Cave owe to this group; and "Smear the Queen," a duet with a particularly alien-sounding Carla Bozulich, is a terrific showcase for how Stewart and company can sound horrifyingly violent and ultimately triumphant at the same time. It's apt that Always was made with Xiu Xiu's devoted fans in mind, since these catchy, desperate, searing, and searching songs aren't always the most accessible, but they show exactly why this band has such a dedicated audience.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares