Angel Guts: Red Classroom
Record Label: Polyvinyl (US), Bella Union (EU
Xiu Xiu returns with their darkest and most tortured release yet. As always, Jamie Stewart heads the group, this time taking listeners down a mineshaft of agony and despair with 14 challenging songs.
Originally formed in the early 2000’s, Stewart has cycled through a handful of collaborators over the years, and recently settled on Angela Seo as a musical partner. Working in this configuration since 2009, their sound pendulum’s between restrain and rage using common elements of voice, analog synths, acoustic drums and drum machines. Despite the limited instrumentation Angel Guts: Red Classroom’s aesthetic is entirely atypical and is actually estranging at times. Recordings for the album predominantly took place at Jamie’s home-studio ‘Nurse’ in Los Angeles and with additional layers tracked at producer John Congleton’s Dallas studio, the Elmwood.
It’s evident off the bat that Stewart intends to contrast repressed emotions and intense inner turmoil via whisper-sung lyrics and cacophonous electronic outbursts. With multiple listens grim themes emerge from the lyrics in tracks like ‘Stupid in the Dark’ and ‘Adult Friends’, which reveal a beset focus on criminals, hardcore sex, suicide and generally aggressive behaviour. In terms of context, the 45 minute release hints towards ‘art-rock’ tendencies. A 4/4 foundation is omnipresent, but layers of haunting instrumentation and plagued songwriting imply accessible framing for ghastly depictions on the canvas. Word has it, some of the moodiness is inspired by a move from North Carolina to a dodgy neighbourhood in L.A. where gang violence prevails and a nearby lake is often dragged for bodies.
Fittingly, the collection of songs begins on a sinister note, as ‘Angel Guts:’ introduces a simple yet menacing sliding melody backed by filtered windy white-noise. The mood gets progressively heavier with the addition of scampering beats and dirty organ tones. For the film-nuts among us, you’ll recognize the album title is taken from a 1979 Japanese erotic movie of the same name. This explicit influence comes through on the repetitive and abrasive track ‘Black Dick’ which starts with pure pop potential before NSFW lyrics obsess on disturbing sexualized content. Later in the mix, ‘Cinthya’s Unisex’ collects as a dark cloud of drones accompanied by a manic Stewart yelling possessed heresy.
Angel Guts: Red Classroom is not an album for the general public but those with raging inner-demons will identify with the socio-struggles Stewart addresses. This album has the potential to derail your day so make efforts to appreciate it in an appropriate context. Fans of physical formats will revel in a transparent vinyl and die-hards can opt for the limited edition blood-red version.