A poorly made cover sounds empty and disconnected, as though the artist has no real appreciation for the song they’re covering; they just know it’s popular or sounds good. Thankfully, Nina is what a cover album should be. Nina Simone had a knack for creating heavy and sometimes inflammatory songs, and combined with Xiu Xiu’s foreboding sound that, in this case, is reminiscent of a haunted graveyard, the result is a mixing of two styles that becomes its own entity, transcending all racial, genre, or temporal differences. Both classic jazz and wild avant-garde, it can be appreciated by undergrounders and your grandmother alike.
The beginning third of the record is slow and quiet, with “Don’t Smoke In Bed,” the first track to premiere, setting the whispery and disgruntled tone of the LP. “See Line Woman” opens up a much more energetic section of the album, and introduces more jazz elements. The wildly pissed off quality of “Pirate Jenny” that made Simone famous is captured perfectly by Jamie Stewart’s dramatic hissing.
Though Nina technically is a collection of covers, as it is a set of songs originally written and/or recorded by The High Priestess Of Soul herself, it does not sound like one, in that when listened to it does not immediately pop out as tracks from another era being reanimated in a puppet-like fashion. It does not sound like a dead man walking at all, and that freshness is what makes Nina so damn good, even if it will be hard for most conventional music fans to swallow. Xiu Xiu have created something that is old by the numbers, but is very much alive and kicking.