Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Outlaster, Nina Nastasia

BEST OF 2010

What if a songwriter wrote short stories similar to Raymond Carver with a hint of Poe's Gothic and mixed it with the musical stylings of a gypsy camp and folk festival? Well, you'd get Nina Nastasia. The dark sounds of the instruments are similar to the ethereal sound scape of a Lynch film. These songs are dark.

Nastasia writes about conversations. About relationships failed, failing, or flailing. About the past as a ghost. About the future as a fiction. Her landscape is an ash field in place of a forest. The guitar is a grieving widow, the violins are abused children, and the voice is a wailing wind storm. Nastasia is a creature from another realm. If Joni Mitchell was tormented by those evil children from Henry James' Turn of the Screw... you'd have the lovely Ms. Nastasia.

I first discovered Nastasia upon the release of Run to Ruin (2003). This album will always remain her greatest. 'On Teasing' is, perhaps, her greatest achievement. Until you have heard the orchestra explosion by the songs end... you are not fully aware of how incredible a strings section can be. As soon as I heard this album I went in search of her first two albums, Dogs and The Blackened Air. Dogs was out of print for a bit, but I did my damnedest to make it mine. Both albums are great starts. The Blackened Air is the stronger of the two albums. Nastasia's storytelling skills are much improved between the first to the second album.

On Leaving
(2006) found Nastasia moving into even starker territory. The instruments and the voice and the lyrics are slimmer. Not emptier. Nastasia is a minimalist in the most impressive way. Capable of success within the simplicity. Then she released You Follow Me (similar to PJ Harvey's White Chalk). Nastasia teamed up with drummer Jim White. The album is made up of only the two. And you wouldn't know this after a first listen. The album seems more full than On Leaving. I consider You Follow Me to be the weakest of Nastasia's latest releases. But, weak for Nastasia is in no way a failure.

On Outlaster, Nastasia has managed to pull together the incredible elements from each of her albums. The sparse, stripped down storytelling of On Leaving with the messy, beautiful strings of Run to Ruin with the simplicity of You Follow Me and a bit of the darkness from The Blackened Air (Nastasia even sings a line with the phrase 'the blackened air'). Nastasia uses her previous albums as stepping stones. And, on Outlaster, Nastasia has combined their characters into one album. Nastasia is a master of her crafts, short story writing and song writing. 'This Familiar Way' may be in the running, with 'On Teasing,' as her greatest song.


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