The hauntingly beautiful new album from Nina Nastasia arrives perfectly formed and long overdue. It's been over a year since the reissue of Nina's debut album, 'Dogs'- a record John Peel called "astonishing" - and two years since the 'Run To Ruin' album, which Uncut magazine described as "Spare, beautiful, outstanding". Nina's fourth album, 'On Leaving', finds the hugely talented, NYC-based singer / songwriter signed to a new label, Fat Cat after three albums released on Chicago indie, Touch and Go. The move from Touch and Go implies "nothing scandalous," says Nina, "just moving, the way you move sometimes. This is a good move all around."
Nina Nastasia's rare gift of a voice is an intimate, winged presence that is able to either freeze or melt your heart, that can powerfully soar and twist, or brush ultra-gently against you, suddenly summoning goose bumps. Mojo commented on its ability to "suck the air out of the room". Picking over themes of love, longing and loss, childhood, dreams and human dramas, her beautifully concise, hook-laden songwriting and the spare arrangements of her band have a certain gritty, rustic charm and intensity. Simultaneously tough and fragile, her songs crackle and smoulder with an intimate emotional honesty and a dark undertow.
Perhaps witnessing a softening of the fever-intensity of previous albums, Nina refers to the new album as being, "more sad than mad". Excepting the rich and sapient string arrangements by Dylan Willemsa on Lee and pianist Steven Beck's sweet classicism on Treehouse Song, 'On Leaving' is praxis of minimalism that builds on Nina Nastasia's stunning earlier repertoire, already famously spare. Here, smoothing bass notes are notably absent. The lushness of a full string section is resolved into pure harmonics, evident, for example, as the smoke in Jim's Room. A piano, the main accompaniment, often finds chords out of time, the space left brought to bear upon characters in the songs, left alone or having themselves departed.
About the players: Nina Nastasia's long-standing peer relationship with engineer Steve Albini and musical organizer Kennan Gudjonsson makes its fourth iteration here, and 'On Leaving' is realised as well by veteran members of Nina's band, Dylan Willemsa (viola), Jay Bellerose (drums), Steven Beck (piano) and Jim White (drums).
The gorgeously delicate cover artwork from 'On Leaving' was made through a process called 'scherenschnitte', a centuries-old Swiss German tradition of cutting folded parchment into intricate illustrations. You might see it hanging in your grandmother's kitchen: a framed pastoral, trees and woodland creatures, rustic houses, scenes of life from a simpler time, cut into lace-like silhouettes. Nina's partner Kennan approached distinguished folk artist Marie-Helene Grabman with a concept for the record design. With what Kennan calls "surprising intuition", she then cut the image from a single piece of paper, and the result forms the centrepiece of the album sleeve. The artwork is a perfect reflection of the music it contains, a skillful, elegant balance between evocative images, and the very spaces that delineate them.
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