The music industry has never been shy when it comes to hyperbole, but Xiu Xiu win the prize for originality. The band's Angel Guts: Red Classroom album is, we're told, "the beginning of Xiu Xiu's descent from grayness into the deepest blackness endurable. It is the sound of Xiu Xiu's death." Combine that with the last-minute cancellation of the electronic indie band's spring tour, and you've got the makings of an exceptionally morbid pity party.
But while frontman Jamie Stewart has gone through his share of troubles this past year, he seems reasonably nonplussed about the current situation. In fact, he's not entirely sure what rumors of Xiu Xiu's death might imply, despite his role in creating them.
"Transformation into some new form? Death of Xiu Xiu as a band? I'm not really sure what's going to happen," he professes. "I might ditch music and go to school to become a mortician."
Stewart's recent troubles began with a move to L.A.'s MacArthur Park neighborhood, a crime-ridden catalyst to a year's worth of paranoia. All that helped spawn Angel Guts, the band's ninth album. It also left him without a functioning voice when the original American tour was supposed to be launched in February.
Luckily, three doctors and a psychologist brought back his vocal talents in time for a short European tour. Meanwhile, Stewart found a slightly friendlier L.A. neighborhood in which to reside. It serves as a source of inspiration, but no longer requires him to be constantly looking over his shoulder.
"The MacArthur Park neighborhood was particularly miserable and complicated," he says, "with junkies, dead bodies, the usual assortment of accessories."
Actually, the dark scenario seems fitting for a band whose swirls of electronica, free-form noise and unusual time signatures are considered by some to be nearly unlistenable. (They're not.) Stewart's vocal stylings suggest a terrified Bryan Ferry accompanied by music that recalls Captain Beefheart at his most otherworldly.
Angel Guts also benefits from the musical contributions of electronics manipulator Angela Seo (who's featured alongside Stewart in an eye-catching, machete-wielding photo shoot), as well as Swans drummer Thor Harris and percussionist Shayna Dunkelman.
For a 12-year-old band that's supposedly on its last legs, Xiu Xiu have been insanely prolific over the past year, putting out an album of Nina Simone covers last December, followed by Angel Guts in February. April saw the release of Unclouded Sky, a Record Store Day album of traditional American and Caribbean spirituals, which was recorded in one day at Sigur Rós' studio in Iceland.
Meanwhile, the bandleader continues to involve himself in a wide range of side projects. He collaborated with Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg as Blue Water White Death and formed an electronic supergroup of sorts with the Italian band Larsen.
He's even joined Deerhoof onstage for performances of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures in its entirety.
"It was a lot of fun," says Stewart. "I need to do more unscripted stuff like that."