Jamie Stewart certainly isn't shy when it comes to tackling difficult emotional topics or exploring them with bile and occasional vulnerability. Dear God, I Hate Myself continues that bravery, a disc full of goth-pop nuggets, the odd blast of cranky guitar, and Stewart’s vocals, which always straddle the line between revelation and artsy navel-gazing.
Stewart produced the album with help from Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, and this edition of Xiu Xiu also features Angela Seo, whose keys and drum programming are now official components of the band. Four of the dozen songs were recorded using a Nintendo DS video-game system, but only the title track is a successful result of that endeavor. It is a rocking, occasionally disturbing self-examination that jumps out as one of the album's most honest moments. Here, even with Stewart’s stylized delivery, truth will out.
Of the other highlights, “Gray Death” is Morissey-esque propulsive glam pop, with lyrics that are poetic, self-pitying, and wrapped in an orchestral feel. It is justly saved by a righteous, crunchy guitar solo section that never abandons the song the rest of the way. “House Sparrow” is an ambient piece with an insistent Bronski-beat, an earnest plea for liberty and freedom. Judging by the lyrics, it's clear that Stewart is yet another dissatisfied customer of the Catholic church. “This Too Shall Pass Away (for Freddy)” is honest and powerful and haunting -- and the best moment on the record.
Other notables are the lush, haunting electronica of “Hyunhye's Theme,” and “Secret Motel,” a brutal groove. Some of the other tracks, including “Chocolate Makes You Happy” and “The Fabrizio Palumbo Retaliation,” seem like the tossed-off, throwaway kind of confection that are used to fill up space. Stewart may be close to genius, but he isn't at the point yet where we are willing to listen to anything he makes.
Still, Dear God, I Hate Myself packs enough of a wallop that it is worth sitting through some dross to get at the choice bits, which, as is the case with any of the best work by Xiu Xiu, are uncomfortable, uncompromising, and easily hummable.
The seventh full-length record for these Oakland, Calif., art-rockers on long-time label home Kill Rock Stars is their first since the departure of long-time member Caralee McElory and follows the 2008 release of Women As Lovers. New recruit Angela Seo joins percussionist Ches Smith and Jamie Stewart, the groups' founder, principal songwriter, and sole constant member (who moonlights in Former Ghosts). Dear God I Hate Myself follows other provocatively titled Xiu Xiu releases like Fag Patrol and features a number of songs composed on the Nintendo DS.