Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #96 Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
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#96 Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
Xiu Xiu has always been a band that comes with a disclaimer. "It's good, but you might think it sounds over the top." Jamie Stewart, the mastermind behind Xiu Xiu, has always attempted to challenge the structures of rock music and the selfishly indifferent nature of American culture. In such a relentless attempt at maintaining an artistic edge, it is difficult to portray a sense of genuineness and there is no doubt that Stewart has occasionally released material that has come off somewhat contrived, largely due to the intensity that is driving his vocals, lyrics, and music. However, 1994's Fabulous Muscles, arguably Stewart's masterpiece, flawlessly blended his musically challenging fervor into, ironically, very accessible songs.
On Fabulous Muscles, Stewart's tenor is what stood out, being furiously intense, as usual. However, unlike most of his other work, he incorporated a sense of restraint on most of the songs, but still maintained the fire that had always burned in his voice. The title track is the most fitting example of such restraint and the intimacy of Stewart's acoustic guitar compounded the intensity. Stewart sang as though he was an inmate on death row, so tired of fighting for his freedom, pleading for mercy. It oozed with tenderness and pain more than most of the millions of other songs that only bear a voice and a guitar. The emotional restraint of "Fabulous Muscles" bled throughout the album, particularly in opener "Crank Heart," which soothingly released into chaos during the chorus. Stewart utilized this powerful restraint in "Clown Towne," singing in waves of calm to wailing restraint, while a beautiful Asian cello bursted through the blips, rattles, raps, and indubitably pop guitar chords. The best song on the album was undoubtedly "I Love the Valley OH!" a pop rock song at its core, but one that layered unconventional elements that created a tension between normal and abnormal, which is precisely what made Fabulous Muscles so brilliant.