Xiu Xiu – Angel Guts: Red Classroom

An album that drips with the influence of its environment.

Label: Bella Union

Rating:

Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu says ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’ was informed by both Japanese pornography - well, if you’re going to make a record informed by any sort of pornography it may as well be Japanese pornography - and his move to a “crime ridden area of LA”.

What isn’t exactly clear is why Stewart decided to up sticks from North Carolina into a “neighbourhood with a notoriously dangerous reputation”. Was he sold a pup by a slick estate agent? Did the nearby residents find out about his crippling Japanese Pornography habit? Or was it for the benefit of his art?

By reputation, Stewart isn’t the sort to take the easy way out, so the latter seems quite possible. Until you listen to ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’. Then it seems less a possibility and more of the kind of cast-iron certainty you could use to hull a ship. It’s an album that drips with the influence of its environment. It is not an easy listen.

It’s dark, and uneasy, and furnished with mournful, sepulchral synth moans and skitterish beats that scutter across the floor, probably disappearing as soon as the light’s turned on. Then there’s Stewart’s voice, ranging from the kind of ghostly croon that suggests it could have once been Antony Hegarty, before he was sacrificed to some vengeful God, to frantic, barely human jabbers.

It gets completely under the skin. ‘Stupid In The Dark’ has a definite debt to Suicide, but the tension it creates is endlessly exciting. It’s as anxious as a man in the ‘Nothing To Declare’ line at customs, half-a-pound of heroin taped to his thigh and an eager looking collie approaching. ‘Black Dick’ and ‘New Life Immigration’ are less frenetic, but both swell ominously and forebodingly with Stewart’s clipped whispers sending a creeping dread running through.

Most of the time ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’ is either provoking creeping dread or all out panic, with the latter just making the former seem even more frenzied. By the time we reach ‘Cinthyia’s Unisex’, the buzzes and rings and wails make you feel you’ve wandered into the control room of a nuclear power station just as the final safeguarding system fails.

It’s a record that leaves you feeling like you should batten down the hatches, ignore the sirens outside and prepare for the apocalypse. An album trying to survive under the harshest conditions, ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’ is a properly thrilling listen.