As Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart and his various collaborators (currently Angela Seo and Ches Smith) have made a career out of the uncomfortable union between on-the-edge-of-tears vocals and chirpy beats. Early albums like 2002’s Knife Play skewed toward peppy -- sometimes the vocals were made small so, they too became animal-esque bump. With each album the sound has become darker and more vocal, and now the beats seem to serve as little more than a foil and intensifier for the melancholy. Some of the best songs Dear God, I Hate Myself ("Gray Death", "Dear God, I Hate Myself") feature live instruments, while others ("Secret Motel") are much glitchier. The sequencing can distract from the band’s emerging ability to write melodies.
The Dear God, I Hate Myself cover features a crew-cut Stewart looking straight into the camera like a Henry Rollins-style bro, and indeed one can imagine him pumping the microphone over and over to his lips as he almost shrieks words of violent self-loathing. Though cartoonish, the vibe is extremely macho and truly narcissistic: self-love and self-hatred meet at the gym, and it’s all very serious. This masculine reflection seems less introspective, more extroverted than the more common feminine looking-glass. Stewart builds a character in song who could be one of the loutish young lovers in an Alan Hollinghurst novel.
Somehow, one can sing along to Morissey but certainly not Xiu Xiu (perhaps "How Soon is Now" is just cartoonish enough?). But I want to listen to Dear God, I Hate Myself over and over to hear ideas emerge from lyrics, and joy and pain weave in and out.