Though clearly not for everyone, Xiu Xiu’s back catalogue has a certain je ne sais quoi. At his best, song writer Jamie Stewart wraps fractured melody inside ear-splitting noise. He provides innovative, exotic instrumentation and grotesque imagery that can switch from repellent to amusing instantly. At his worst, his music is completely impossible to listen to. With his quirky strengths and prickly inconsistencies, Stewart’s songs seem like fertile ground for others to explore and reinterpret. But on the evidence of the two-disc Remixed & Covered compilation, that assumption may be inaccurate.
The many misses on the covers disc illuminate the artistic tightrope Xiu Xiu frequently navigates. Marissa Nadler tries to turn “Clowne Towne” into a conventional ballad, and Stewart’s bizarre lyrics make her sound ridiculous. Larsen makes “Mousey Toy” into passable post-rock, but a distorted monotone vocal loses any emotional weight. Her Space Holiday and Why? try to lighten the mood slightly but end up as camp and novelty, respectively. It seems a nudge in any direction invites disaster.
Xiu Xiu’s tourmate Sunset Rubdown comes close to success, turning the bloody synths of “Apistat Commander” into baroque prog-rock while keeping the anthemic quality intact. It too loses its way with an ambling, extended mid-section that never really pays off. The only artist to turn in a version that’s unquestionably better than the original is Devendra Banhart. Tackling the culturally verboten anti-U.S. soldier sentiment of “Support Our Troops” is brave enough, but to make that “song” into a street-corner doo-wop is unbelievably audacious. Beyond just balls, it’s the melodic re-imagining of atonal performance art that makes the cover work.
The remix disc fares even worse. Kid 606 partially makes up for his dreadful “Fabulous Muscles” cover by isolating the catchy “Walla Walla Hey” outburst from “Bishop, Ca” and tossing the rest out. There are no other unqualified victories to be found. Pulling intensely shy wallflower vocals into pounding clubland sounds really awkward. Attempting to out avant Stewart just ends up ugly. Minor tweaks don’t seem worthwhile. Like so many remix albums that don’t involve the letters D, F, or A, the whole thing reeks of pointlessness.
The insular and emotive records put out under the Xiu Xiu name demand a very specific brand of performance. Manic energy or deranged conviction are frequently the only things keeping these songs from being completely ridiculous. There very well might be a way for outside artists to interpret Stewart’s work that would be entertaining or illuminating, but Remixed & Covered is only very seldom either.
“Hello from Eau Claire” MP3