In 2014, Jamie Stewart told the Indy that his Xiu Xiu project was dead. Yet the ensuing seven years were among the San José band’s most prolific, even if Stewart at times felt like he and collaborator Angela Seo were simply phoning it in. The last Xiu Xiu album, 2019’s Girl With Basket of Fruit, seemed to exploit harshness as its own reward. When word got out that the new album OH NO (Polyvinyl) would feature duets with experimental musicians singing sad ballads, chances were good that Stewart would drown in pathos.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. When your partners have the stature of Sharon Van Etten, Alice Bag or Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater, the duets steer in a worthy direction. Sure, there are misfires where Stewart gives in to too much angst. But in the best tracks, Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux (“The Grifters”) and Liz Harris of Grouper (“A Bottle of Rum”) impose gentle and understated control to keep Stewart on track. As a result, Xiu Xiu moves from self-immolation to evolution, suggesting more growth in the future.
Also New & Noteworthy
Natalie D-Napoleon, You Wanted to Be the Shore, But Instead You Were the Sea (N-DN Music) – By using a Santa Barbara chapel as recording studio and her own front porch as a muse, Western Australian songwriter Natalie D-Napoleon has delivered her most fearless album to date, suggestive of Natalie Merchant’s style, but more badass. Dan Phillips and Doug Pettibone are among the session musicians who help make original tracks like “Thunder Rumor” and “Gasoline & Liquor” catch fire.
Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dance Songs for Hard TImes (Family Owned/Thirty Tigers) – One limitation of the 2020s blues revival is its focus on Delta-style acoustics. Rev. Peyton’s three-piece ensemble remembers the fun of fast-paced boogie, and the new album combines ZZ Top attitude with a Robert Gordon rockabilly delivery. The 11 tracks focus on the 2020 illnesses of Peyton’s wife and band member Breezy Peyton, as well as Peyton’s father, but the sheer rowdiness of “No Tellin’ When” or “Ways and Means” assures listeners won’t stay sad for long.