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Album Review
Outlaster

Outlaster
by Nina Nastasia

Label
FatCat
Rating

Review Date
24th November 2010
Reviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam

Nina Nastasia sounds so dangerous in her recordings. For someone who is in effect, simply a singer-songwriter, her music has this reckless quality which means she drags the listener away from what could be assumed to be a comfortable listen. This also perhaps explains why this angelic-voiced artist is stuck in the depths of cult-dom, rather than filling the concert halls which she deserves to be doing instead. Whether it was the orchestral spareness of Run to Ruin or 2007’s criminally underrated You Follow Me, Nastasia has always added unconventional flourishes to beautiful, emotionally direct songs. (You Follow Me was just Nastasia and the Dirty 3’s Jim White, and the two managed to turn guitar, voice and drums into sounding much, much more than it was). Outlaster finds Nastasia’s palette expanded again and with a much richer sound. Her unpredictable and theatrical arrangements, canny references to tango and Romany music, and long-time collaborator Steve Albini’s production add another excellent album by the New York artist.

It’s a strikingly complex and dark album, with enough depth in it to be revealed on multiple listens. But it starts off gentle, with ‘Cry, Cry, Baby’ starting with just Nastasia and a guitar. But the strings take over, and Albini’s production gives a taste of the lushness of what’s about to follow. ‘This Familiar Way’ is an absolute knockout, another simple set-up blowing into a full-blown tango, as Nastasia utilises the classic melodrama of ‘50s and ‘60s tango music (and their arrangements) with impressive skill. The next track ‘What’s Out There’ isn’t too bad either, though it’s a terrifying listen. The pizzicato strings collapse inwards, constricts the atmosphere to incredibly claustrophobic levels. It’s fitting that the song ends with the line “oh window, window, I have to smash you out”. Her customary usual major key moment of catharsis – this time ‘Wakes’, doesn’t offer the comfort you hope for with the lines “I can’t mend this // I can’t mend this living” (though to be fair, Nastasia very rarely offers too much comfort). By the end, when Nastasia icily sings “comes closer”, you’re not sure whether to believe her.

Her voice, typically, is also a star. She manages to hold the quiet moments to such arresting effect you can’t help but listen, but when she cuts loose, it’s a thing of awe. Albini’s production is typically effective and the instrumentation add colour in the right way (rather than simply stirring and swelling, the arrangements allow for the diverse instrumentation to shine). Given that singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen, Nina Nastasia shows that she has crafted enough of a personality to stand out as a true maverick.






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