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Sometimes fans attempt to comfort Stewart. "It's nice that someone would take the time to ask if I'm OK," he says. Others tell him that his lyrics have helped them overcome their own harrowing ordeals. "I really appreciate the fact that someone would be brave enough to share something intimate like that with us. It takes a lot of guts."
As for his own public airing of his fears and ugliest feelings, Stewart says, "that's more obsessive-compulsive than courageous."
Unsurprisingly, critics often call Xiu Xiu's music "challenging." The term seems to address Stewart's hyper-expressive vocals more than their backdrops -- which, though occasionally shrouded in electronic dissonance and metal-on-metal clatter, follow linear melodic patterns and often approach fragile beauty. Several tracks, propelled by programmed percussion and rumbling basslines, even settle into new-wave grooves, leading to the incongruous spectacle of fans dancing during Xiu Xiu's morbid recitals. There's even sexual energy at times, though Stewart warns "it's really unhealthy."
But to him, "challenging" doesn't mean inscrutable atonal noise, unorthodox instrumentation or provocative lyrics.
"Any music that someone plays from the heart, totally openly, becomes challenging music, even if it's just guitar and vocals," Stewart says. "And any reaction to that music is great, as long as it's what the person is really feeling."