For nearly 15 years, Xiu Xiu has madly scribbled in a cluttered sketchbook of experimental rock, with enough brilliant moments to keep listeners wondering whether frontman Jamie Stewart might be onto something. And yet, for the most part, each record has stubbornly maintained a disorganized shamble, making it safe to assume that chaotic art-pop ravings were all to be expected from the band. Forget, however, finally undertakes a concerted effort to serve the trio’s talents in a digestible form, with inviting and accessible results.
As it turns out, full-scale changes aren’t necessary to repurpose Xiu Xiu’s avant-garde scraps for general use: just a little more space to grow, a throbbing beat here and there to keep things moving, a consistent structure to hold everything together—in other words, time-tested components of songwriting. Only taking Stewart’s quavering, warbled vocals (easily the band’s most distinguishing and divisive element) down a notch or two also goes far in making it a delicate, dread-spreading asset rather than an alienating deal-breaker. And while the heavy focus on electronics might feel a little late to the game, synthpop and industrial styles easily fit Stewart’s knack for building fragile tension on cuts such as “Get Up.”
The astral, pulsing “Wondering” is a prime example of how painlessly Xiu Xiu’s unrestrained inclinations transform into enticingly quirky earworms. Coated in a ghostly sheen, the track glides along a persistent, catchy groove and has an honest-to-god chorus to boot. And it isn’t all pandering to the dance crowd; “Jenny GoGo” crafts a creeping, distorted nightmare, which has always been the band’s forte. On the quieter side, “Petite” is an eerie acoustic spotlight in which Stewart delivers a gently wounded monologue.
The album will probably disappoint Xiu Xiu’s more cerebral followers as too smooth and straightforward for their liking. But the band’s catalog is filled with the type of engaging oddments that are fleshed out here—it’s just that one no longer has to go on an extended hunt to enjoy them. Forget doesn’t mean that Xiu Xiu has ignored its past; actually, it’s a project that fans are more likely to remember.