Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles

Xiu XiuReleased: 2004
Bought: Amazon, 2005
Rating: 71

The first time I had access to broadband was while I was at university and the combination of faster download speeds with a LOT of free time meant that a whole world of new music was opened up to me.

I read Tinymixtapes obsessively, contributing fairly regularly to its mixtape section, and would get into a lot of stuff on the back of their recommendations. I first discovered bands like Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse and The Wrens through TMT, and also unearthed few more obscure bands by going through their end of year lists. Fabulous Muscles was on one of those lists and is probably one of the oddest albums I own. It is yet another one that’s been gathering dust for quite some time and another one I wasn’t that bothered about hearing again.

The album starts with about a minute of twiddly keyboards and whispered vocals before bursting into angry life with the chorus of “Crank Heart” and its cacophony of Casios. This is one of the most immediate moments of the record and is followed by another song that could almost be described as conventional. “I Luv The Valley OH!” starts like a lo-fi Beirut and ends sounding like Arcade Fire dragged through a warzone, with a bit of French thrown in there for good measure. And, later on, the unusually light “Clowne Towne” could be straight off a Björk album. These are about as “normal” as Fabulous Muscles gets though, with the rest of the album veering off into much more difficult territory, with pain and darkness at its heart.

The most difficult thing on here is probably “Support Our Troops OH! (Black Angels OH!)”, with lyrics like “Did you know you were going to shoot off the top of a four-year old girl’s head…” spoken over an eerie backdrop of feedback, plucked electronics and squalling brass. It’s an ordeal to listen to, but in a good way – the imagery of the lyrics and the tension of the music make for an unsettling but ultimately quite rewarding listen.

And that’s probably how I’d describe the whole album. It’s incredibly dark, definitely not easy listening and does take some getting used to but, unlike some other music this deliberately odd, it’s by no means inaccessible.

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