Album Reviews

Nina Nastasia – On Leaving

(Fat Cat) UK release date: 11 September 2006

As the autumn nights draw in, something like this can wrap you up and threaten to never let go. A similar thing happened this time last year with Laura Cantrell‘s Humming By The Flowered Vine, and perhaps also, in a different way, with Josephine Foster’s Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You. Anyway, autumn is a season you’d imagine was made, this year at least, for the music of Nina Nastasia.

Nastasia’s forth album (and first for the FatCat label) is a quintessential collection of the kind of subtle contrasts and ambiguity that makes her such a fascinating songwriter, and breaking it up for analysis proves almost as enthralling an activity as sitting down and being passively enveloped by its effortless beauty.

Nastasia’s ouvre, developed and refined over the last ten years since moving to New York from Hollywood, is a kind of Christmas without the presents. On Leaving passes by like just such an experience, with all the festivity of music intact, yet shrouded in ultra-refined intellectual melancholia. Indeed, this is an album you’ll have to make an outward effort to grasp, otherwise it’ll pass you by like a warm breeze.

Nastasia is amazingly laid-back in her expression, but the wealth of emotion encapsulated in her poetically economic lyrics is as hard-hitting as you’ll get. Fully aware that four words often say more than ten, Nastasia’s expert reticence bestows minimalist beauty on hushed epics like Counting Up Your Bones and opener Jim’s Room, each resounding with a cut-glass perception, while other songs glimmer with a more robust musical edge.

The only legitimate comparison I can make with any recent release by another artist is the aforementioned Hazel Eyes by Josephine Foster, but whereas that was shot through with intentionally austere imagery, Nastasia is altogether more orthodox in her song conception. Again, the lyricism in On Leaving is artistically sensual, rendered like a romantic Godard masterpiece, while the songs manage to be stark, intellectually distant, warm and homely at the same time.

Brad Haunts A Party is a track that particularly underlines Nastasia’s utterly uncompromising arrangements, locking you into a story of lovers’ last journey with heated and unsteady percussion and frantic piano. It’s a track that has you all the more glued for its brevity, and the in/out nature of a number of songs of similar length lends the album an extra, extra filmic grace. Our Day Trip catches an altogether more hopeful atmosphere, drawn out to two epic minutes, and its twinkling piano and serene beats make for one of the recurring contrasts that render the LP such a complex masterpiece.

That’s the word I’ve been getting to, and with such an unassuming way of going about things, Nastasia renders a new blueprint for the achievement. On leaving is minimalist to the degree that it stares down any kind of pretensions with utter empowerment. A winsome wonder to cherish under falling leaves, Nastasia is this autumn’s undisputed princess.

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More on Nina Nastasia
Nina Nastasia – Riderless Horse
Nina Nastasia – Outlaster
Nina Nastasia @ Café OTO, London
Nina Nastasia @ Scala, London
Nina Nastasia – On Leaving