Avant-garde rock group Xiu Xiu takes on one of its most ambitious projects yet with Nina. The album — recorded only in one day — pays homage to Nina Simone, as all 11 tracks are reincarnations of Simone’s songs. While a sonic far cry from anything Simone ever recorded, Xiu Xiu’s experimentation pays off. Nina is a worthy tribute.
The instrumentation on Nina is unique, as it features guitar, saxophone, piano and accordion. Frontman Jamie Stewart’s breathy vocals are eerie and haunting. These features combine to give a very dark and spooky mood to the album, elements not typically found in Simone’s music.
The record requires patience, as many of the songs are instrumentally sparse and move very slowly. “Don’t Explain” drags along, and Stewart’s lethargic vocals hardly engage the listener.
When Xiu Xiu picks up the tempo, Nina is at its best. “See Line Woman”and “Pirate Jenny” are the album’s fastest moving pieces, and not coincidentally, the record’s best tracks. Additionally, the two songs are the most similar to the Simone originals.
Although distant musically, Xiu Xiu’s Nina pushes the envelope like Simone before. The band does a fine job paying homage to a Simone while exposing younger generations to her work.
— James Stramm
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