Although she courts an air of mystery as willfully as any indie-rock vixen, the strangest thing about Scout Niblett is her name. Her parents mellifluously dubbed their child Emma Louise, but she adopted Scout as a tribute to the little girl in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet despite this and other tendencies toward the mental detritus of childhood -- a Treasure Island reference here, a nursery-rhyme structure there -- her music is instantly recognizable as creaky, meandering, post-adolescent dolefulness. You've heard it done better by Shannon Wright, Nina Nastasia, and, best of all, Cat Power, who's such an obvious reference that a profile in Vice magazine opens with Niblett denying that she sounds anything like Chan Marshall ("So stop saying that").
Since we're all blessed and cursed with unique fingerprints, there are differences between the two, of course, accentuated by Niblett's English birth, which in this artsy context just makes her sound vaguely foreign. At times she comes across like Björk gone grunge-minimalist, at others like Beth Gibbons of Portishead, with mania added to the melancholy. In fact, Niblett's cooing-to-keening dynamics and earthy guitar-drum arrangements can evoke Nirvana, especially on the "Lithium"-like "Lullaby for Scout in 10 Years," from the new Kidnapped in Neptune (Too Pure). But if murky romanticism masquerading as naked expressionism is all that St. Kurt was about, then maybe Gus Van Sant is just the director to document his last days after all.