Xiu Xiu – Nina
★★ (out of 5 stars)
Jamie Stewart’s unflinching electro-pop outfit Xiu Xiu doesn’t so much push the artistic envelope as shreds it, lights it on fire and then snorts the ashes. If past song titles (“I Luv Abortion”) and album names (Dear God, I Hate Myself) don’t put Stewart’s abrasive nature on prominent enough display, there’s Nina, which contains 11 terrifyingly sparse covers of songs by legendary jazz vocalist Nina Simone. Now, as a Southern-born African-American and civil rights activist, despair was inherent in Simone’s music. But Stewart’s tortured whisper, along with the squalling free-jazz arrangements of longtime Xiu Xiu collaborator Ches Smith, put a ghastly spin on otherwise elegant songs like “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” Flourishes of melody do arise on “Just Say I Love Him” and “The Other Woman.” Put bluntly, however, if you’re not a Jamie Stewart fan, Nina might instantly repel you. File this one under deep novelty and let’s look forward to Xiu Xiu’s next album, joyously titled Angel Guts: Red Classroom.