Seventh album by cult American singer songwriter documents a period of personal trauma and pain with honesty, empathy and beauty
We last heard from Nina Nastasia back in 2010 when she released her sixth album, Outlaster. Since then it’s fair to say she has lived through a period of extreme personal trauma and pain. She issued a statement to coincide with the release of new album Riderless Horse, explaining how she had been on the receiving end of abuse, control and manipulation from Kennan Gudjonsson, her partner of over 25 years. She made the decision on 26th January 2020 to end the relationship and on the following day Gudjonsson committed suicide (the subject is covered in more detail in this interview). The ensuing emotional distress and significant impact on her mental health made her stop making music.
Riderless Horse is Nastasia’s attempt to address her grief and bewilderment and make sense of a tragic situation. Importantly however, it also tries to plot a path forward that will allow her to try to restart her life. Naturally, it’s a difficult listen with several moments that bring her experience into stark light. After listening to it however, you’re also struck by feelings of admiration and goodwill for Nastasia, alongside hope that she is now in a better place.
Musically, the components remain the same as her earlier albums, minimal acoustic guitar and her fragile yet imposing voice (like all of her previous albums it is produced by Steve Albini, who helps preserve the rawness and clarity that defines works like 2002’s acclaimed The Blackened Air and 2006’s On Leaving).
Just Stay In Bed offers a brutal, honest opening, recounting the darkness of this time and her desire to hide but also offering tiny fragments of hope (“Maybe just maybe, the dark will subside, and the rise will feel fine”). You Were So Mad is one of several moments that border on the uncomfortable, stopping the listener in their tracks as she questions herself and seeks to understand an impossible situation (“You set a blaze inside our house, you burned it down and smoked us out”). This Is Love offers more lyrical starkness as she plaintively sings “is this love it feels so bad, drawing blood until we both see black, we’re depleted but we stay on track, holding hands through every violent blast”.
Blind As Batsies strikes a lighter note, its playful, musical innocence recalling We’re Going To Be Friends by The White Stripes. The lyrics are naturally darker but also forgiving and forward-looking as she comments how “no matter when, no matter how we live or die, I’ve found a friend, I’m gonna take you where I fly”. Lazy Road contains similar tiny grains of hope, even seeing her reveal how “I feel like I’m happy for the first time”.
It feels important to seek out these small positives amid all of the surrounding pain and unhappiness. The fact that Nastasia has documented this period with such honesty, empathy and beauty makes Riderless Horse feel like a small, healing triumph of sorts, a quiet personal victory against overwhelming adversity.