Nina Nastasia Nina NastasiaOutlaster
A new album from Nina Nastasia, folk singer-songwriter from New York, who presents herself to us on the cover of “Outlaster” with a phantasmagoric face and unwashed hair, should be considered a big event. It isn’t a new album by Ani DiFranco (and I say Ani DiFranco as though I could name many other singer-songwriters noted for their medium-high ranking, but not for making your hair stand on end). The last five works by this peddler of sad, dark feelings were all leaps into the abyss. “The Blackened Air” (2002) and “Run To Ruin” (2003), her masterpieces, were as different from each other as they were complex and beneficial for the spirit. The first was a compendium of the musical registers we saw in the rest of the works; the second was a Bible of the dark with only eight terrifying songs about loneliness and conversations. Dialogue is one of her recurring themes, and she expresses it both in the lyrics and through the instruments. There was the experimental “You Follow Me” (2007), with regular collaborator Jim White of Dirty Three on the drum, which had improvisation, sound inventiveness, and especially knew how to fill in the empty spaces left by a guitar with a voice and a drum. Nastasia is so magnificent that even in works that are more conventional stylistically speaking, like “On Leaving” (2006) or “Dogs” (2000), we can always find little short jewels or biting words, consisting at times of a single phrase, like “Dear Rose,” on “Dogs” which said: “Dear Rose, I apologize. I hope you’ll think of me as someone who would do anything for you.”
“Outlaster” is the next step after the total experimentation of “You Follow Me”. Like the other, it too is produced by Steve Albini. And if there was any doubt, it is another indispensable piece for the collection of anyone who follows Nastasia. It’s an album that’s dry on the surface, and dense, damp, and intimate inside, full of emotional chiaroscuros and whispered details that must be listened to by candlelight. And although the introduction, “Cry, Cry Baby”, stays in the memory because it has a good chorus (something that is always a problem for this artist, more in love with difficult sounds that offer greater payoff in the conquering, than with structures in major scales that are easy to remember), the rest of the songs are real mood roller-coasters, accompanied by Nastasia’s signature violins trembling along with her voice; and atonalities that are as unpleasant as those that Schönberg worked with, here become meteorites dispersed across the music. We hear the violins on the early track “Moves Away”, and the atonalities on “This Familiar Way” the rhythm peppered with them like a broken waltz. The arrhythmias and the tour de force that are “You Can Take Your Time”, “Wakes” and “What’s Out There” (where she gives an amazing voice demonstration), and in the orchestration, measured but intense (something that isn’t always easy to do), of “You’re A Holy Man”.
“Outlaster” implies survival, and is an idea we accept as a constant metaphor in the life and work of Nina Nastasia. Both in thematic issues and in production (in the song of the same name, she manages with a single note of the guitar to establish the rhythm); in what she says and what she doesn’t say, and in the craft of filling silences with intensity ( “One Way Out” has a drowsy slowness with an acoustic instrumental ending that is simply adorable). This intensity is whatever you want it to be: Give it a name, it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, just know that it belongs to you.