Xiu Xiu

Angel Guts: Red Classroom

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Angel Guts: Red Classroom arrived just a few months after Nina, a collection of Nina Simone covers that already hinted that Xiu Xiu were headed in a more experimental direction than much of their work from the mid-2000s onward. Relatively speaking, of course -- even the band's catchiest albums, like Always, have had more than a little art damage. At the time of its release, Angel Guts was touted as Xiu Xiu's darkest album to date, though it might be more accurate to call it one of the band's most obviously dark works. Named after a violent Japanese erotic film from the '70s and borrowing musical inspiration from Einstürzende Neubauten, Scott Walker, and Suicide, the album finds Jamie Stewart and company diving back into their music's most provocative realms. The results could be shocking for shocking's sake -- and sometimes they are -- but Xiu Xiu still deliver nuances within this abrasive territory. For every song like "Black Dick," which brandishes its titular chorus like a weapon until it loses all meaning, or "Lawrence Liquors," which sounds like it's on fire, there's a song like the wearily beautiful "Bitter Melon," where Stewart wonders, "Can I have a face you can truly love?," or the majestic penultimate track "Botanica de Los Angeles." Even on "Cinthya's Unisex," where Stewart wails and growls "I hate everyone but you," Angel Guts rarely feels as personally harrowing as Xiu Xiu's earliest albums, and there are more than a few moments that could fit on their poppier efforts; "Stupid in the Dark" could be a more danceable cousin of Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop." Instead, the album's terrors have a more theatrical bent, like the squealing pigs that make "Adult Friends"' conflation of intimacy and horror play like a very dark joke. It might not be as haunting as some of their earlier work, but Angel Guts: Red Classroom proves Xiu Xiu can still make impressively intimidating music -- even if their real strengths arguably lie elsewhere.

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