The 00s were the decade where goth culture finally sulked into the mainstream. It was afforded mall nooks, token representation in lazy teen movies, and adorable cameos in the Spanish prime minister's family photo-ops—a victory so complete that even queen bees and quarterbacks now willingly devour vampire-themed everything. But if goth itself was thoroughly normalized, the 00s' most important goth musician, Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart, was most definitely not. Stewart has emptied the contents of his bruised soul in whispers and shrieks all over six alternately amazing and appalling art-pop records, in a calm-before-the-Tourette's-yelp style opposite the chilly reserve of previous mopey icons. With longtime sidekick Caralee McElroy gone to play vixen for the more rote, commercially viable Cold Cave, Stewart starts a new decade with the perfectly titled, Dear God, I Hate Myself, produced by Deerhoof's Greg Saunier.
Stewart's act depends on raw nerves and sublimated violence, so "mature" is an adjective he'd never court. Better to say that this is his most controlled record, and easily the easiest back-to-front listen in a supremely fucked up catalog. "If you expect me to be outrageous, I'll be extra outrageous," he bluffs on opener "Grey Death," a song that's more notable for its rad, fleeting guitar riffs than its masochistic lyrics. But for once, a Xiu Xiu record (mostly) dodges sexual transgression or its mirror image of abuse. "Chocolate Makes You Happy" is embarrassing in a way that Stewart totally owns, castigating fatsos and sluts alike. It's maybe the catchiest thing he's ever written, leaving its noise bursts on the margins. The title track, for all of its maudlin gloom, still contains Stephin Merritt bon mots like, "I'll always be nicer to the cat than I am to you." The horn-flecked "This Too Shall Pass (For Freddy)" is, gasp, almost uplifting. There are slower moments, more synth-spastic ones, and a pleasant version of the traditional "Cumberland Gap" that's just baffling. Mainly though, Dear God, I Hate Myself sheds Xiu Xiu's most excessive, off-putting tendencies, without feeling like an aesthetic retreat. Which is shocking in an entirely different sense.