Sometimes I wonder if Jaime Stewart and his bandmates are just fucking with us. The California-bred trio’s previous album, Fabulous Muscles (2004), read like a manic-depressive’s diary, the opening’s jilting rhythms and freakouts leading into the calm of the storm — otherwise known as the album’s boring remainder. When Stewart wasn’t actively having a breakdown, Xiu Xiu seemed a bit lost.
La Foret is an entirely different beast. Rather than parading around his demons, Stewart drapes them in a deep, swamp-like veneer, which some could say is tantamount to hiding those demons away. The guitars gently strum, the drums barely crash and chimes that are peppered in are mere accents to the music. Its predecessor’s energy rears its head every now and then, but for the most part, this one is a muted affair.
On “Muppet Face,” Stewart harnesses some of that nervous mental anguish with a voice that blankets lines such as “This kiss scrapes like rust” with a veneer that makes you feel guilty for enjoying it. The song’s voyeuristic journey into its author’s mind makes you question why you’re listening: Is it because you truly enjoy the song or because you’re curious to know what drama is next?
As always, Stewart is engaging, but this time around he is able to hold your attention by also being subtle, illustrating his music as a nuanced character study rather than something that some may consider a circus sideshow. The album relies less on hooks and more on a sparse energy, but the listening is engaging enough to keep the listener around to the end, focusing more on cohesion rather than theatrics.