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Nina Nastasia Biography

Last updated: 06/04/2004 09:44:26 PM

Nina Nastasia lives in Manhattan's neighborhood of Chelsea with her companion and musical organizer Kennan Gudjonsson, in an apartment that is the very picture of New York romanticism, right down to the unnamed cat. She is quite funny, though not as full of vile jokes as Kennan. She is pretty. She's thoughtful and perceptive and all the little open-eyed things that a respectable singer-songwriter must be. All of which is unimportant when it comes to her music. A lot of delightful, funny, good-looking etc. people make perfectly awful music (especially singer-songwriters). Because making great music is all about the line-there's a line, like a telephone cord from when telephones had cords, and it goes from someone's brain to a guitar through some kind of band into microphones onto tape onto records and into the home of the listener. It's a bastard long line, and making it short, as close to invisible as possible, is a trick that hardly anyone can do well. It takes discipline, a lack of ego, generosity coupled with the kind of circumspection that doesn't come easily to someone who thinks his/her innermost thoughts are worthy of public consumption.

Nastasia's line is not really there. Listening to Dogs (Nastasia's first album, on micro-indie Socialist Records) for the hundredth time or so, you start looking for that line. You become convinced you are being snowed by the overall beauty of the record, the suppleness of the playing, the transparent arrangements, the beyond-pleasantness of Nastasia's voice. What you find is what? I don't know. Magic, or something.

Records only attain that state, they're only trulymagical if, aside from satisfying the usual laundry list of musical attributes, they are pretty much free of artifice. On The Blackened Air (her second album but first for Touch and Go), Nastasia and her band continue to keep the line short to the point of vanishing, even as they expand on the more straightforward, almost sing-song qualities of her debut. Both records were documented by Steve Albini in Chicago. Where they were once content to support a vocal melody, they now pry it apart and look down its throat. The stringed and wind instruments (viola, cello, mandolin, accordion, bowed saw, acoustic and electric guitars) reach up out of the songs into rarified territory. Little stories of Peeping Toms and the police lights they bring with them. Graveyards and impolite family. Epigrams against disaster, depression, simple forgetfulness, delivered so effortlessly that the precision of the delivery registers long after its substance has left its mark. When she sings "I'm not hiding anything / I'm not trying to fool you at all," in a song titled "That's All There Is," it is all the truth.

A generation-plus of young troubadours pine for things they never had to lose, as if sadness and depression were inevitable consequences of being alive. Nastasia's music is an antidote to all of that. The Blackened Air is a darkish record not just in title, but by examining everything without caving in to decadence or solipsism, it's a rejuvenating experience. It's informed, without affect, unique, and succinct. Above all, it's beautiful to hear and a pleasure to have in one's home.

Nina Nastasia - Guitar/Vocal
Gerry Leonard - Guitar/Mondolin
Jay Bellerose - Drums
Gonzalo Munoz - Saw
Joshua Carlebach - Accordian
Dave Richards - Bass
Stephen Day - Cello
Dylan Willemsa - Viola