Review: Xiu Xiu’s Latest Album ‘Girl with Basket of Fruit’ Gets Weirder Than Ever

In its 16th year as a band, Xiu Xiu is no stranger to playing with darkness. But their newest album, “Girl with Basket of Fruit,” plumbs to haunting new depths. Released on Feb. 8, it is the band’s first with their fresh lineup of Jamie Stewart, Angela Seo, Jordan Geiger and Thor Harris.

Often described as an “experimental” or “avant garde” group, Xiu Xiu’s sound is, indeed, hard to label. The band takes their name from the Joan Chen-directed 1998 Chinese drama “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl,” which follows the slow death of a 15-year-old at the hands of a corrupt and perverse Cultural Revolution-era society. Just like its namesake, the band loves to explore complicated emotions that everyone feels but just doesn’t like to acknowledge.

After a few members left Xiu Xiu in 2009, Seo joined the group and almost immediately stirred up controversy for her role in the music video “Dear God, I Hate Myself,” for which she was filmed vomiting over the length of the three-minute song. Seo’s part on “Girl”is decidedly less contentious. Seo co-produced the new album and acts in Xiu Xiu’s music videos.

The music video of the album’s first single, “Scisssssssors,” is reminiscent of 1970s Italian horror classics like “Suspiria,” with Technicolor accents, dramatic close-ups and entrancing cinematic motifs. The song could fit right into any Dario Argento film with its peculiar blend of screams, whispers, drums and delicate vocals.

Seo co-produced “Girl” and stars in the album’s music videos.

“Girl with Basket of Fruit” opens with its title track’s jarring cacophony of sound punctuated by squealing electronic percussion, while Stewart’s hysteric vocals describe apocalyptic scenes involving frogs, panettone, buttholes and fruit.   

A funny thing about “Girl” is that the song titles playfully disguise their true nature. “Ice Cream Truck” is not a nostalgic trip down memory lane but a musical portrait of an ice cream truck from hell. The horn on this track is no sweet jingle from that beloved vessel of frozen treats; rather, it sounds like something from a junkyard nightmare.

Perhaps the most disturbing track is “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” which tells the story of one of the most brutal lynchings in America’s history: the killing of a pregnant 20-year-old. A spectral female voice howls while a pounding of drums, like knocks on a door, build toward a frenzied zenith. All the while, Stewart tells the story of the murder of Turner, her husband and her unborn child. It is an unnerving testament to the evil that men can do, and it’s a place where no one else besides Xiu Xiu would dare to go.

On the opposite end of the weirdness spectrum is “Normal Love,” perhaps the album’s most conventional song. There are immediately recognizable instruments like a piano and what sounds like a sample of Modest Mouse’s “The World at Large.” This track is still bizarre with Stewart’s chants of “Yes/no/yes/no,” but after the wild ride of the rest of “Girl with Basket of Fruit,” it feels almost quaint.

All in all, Xiu Xiu is a polarizing act and is considered by many to be an acquired taste. You’re not sure why you keep listening, but it’s hard to deny their mysterious and magnetic appeal.