Over the course of their first four releases, Xiu Xiu is a band that has seemed to slowly let their guard down musically. Nearly always confrontational both lyrically and vocally, they (mainly Jamie Stewart at this point) reigned in the noise just slightly and tightened up the songcraft on Fabulous Muscles and it made for what was easily the best release from the group yet (and one of the better albums of last year).
Stewart has said in interviews that he wants to work quickly and release nearly an album per year, and despite a load of touring (even internationally), La Forêt holds to the promise, arriving just a year after the last full length. If Fabulous Muscles was a venture into more of a pop realm for the group, then the eleven tracks definitely pull back. While there are some definite noisy freakouts on the album, it could also quite possibly be the quietest and most sparse thing that the group has ever done (close to even the Fag Patrol EP in places).
Quiet and sparse is how the album starts, as "Clover" finds Stewart almost struggling to get the words out as quiet vibraphone, guitar, and bass backing fill in things just barely behind him. In a complete direction change, "Muppet Face" starts out sparse with some programmed beats and filtered chimes before exploding with blasts of harsh noise during the chorus. The dynamic change is dramatic and cathartic and while the track follows a more conventional structure, the redlined earbleed blasts will certainly keep it away from radio.
The middle of the release again goes back to more subtle arrangements, and "Mousey Toy," "Baby Captain" and "Rose Of Sharon" are all notible for their sheer restraint. The pained vocals of Stewart hang out in the open even more than usual, and while the tracks are mixed in with some louder outbursts (like the musically overdone "Saturn"), there are times when the album is playing that it goes to nearly complete silence between musical and vocal phrases. The group still isn't beyond overdoing things a bit, but other than a few tracks, the group has proved they can mix in said freakouts to the songs and have them sound like they belong.
Oddly enough, the album is at the same time the most restrained and also not nearly as focused as Fabulous Muscles. With their fourth full-length release, the group shows that there are still plenty of areas that they can explore with their sound, such as focusing much more on less-obvious melodies and experimenting more with drone and subtle shifts in sound. While these experiments don't always quite work, at the very least the group isn't falling into a rut. Overall, La Forêt is a slight step back from a group who isn't sitting still for anyone.