Though sometimes compared to Neko Case's (oddly) and Gillian Welch's
(correctly), Nina Nastasia's voice is a little less country, a little
less rock 'n' roll. That it vacillates among genres, from dirge to
ballad to lullaby to convincing rocker, makes her third record,
Run to Ruin, difficult to classify, but astonishingly easy,
for material this dense, to fall right into.
Building on the creeping, creepy instrumentation of her previous
effort, The Blackened Air, Nastasia, with the aide of producer
Steve Albini, deconstructs and reconstructs her work; where The
Blackened Air sounded haunting, Run to Ruin sounds
downright haunted, and, indeed, it's got moments filled with menace
and chords written to make you feel uncomfortable. The songwriting
here is looser, the songs themselves longer and demonstrative of the
deeper understanding Nastasia has gained of her voice, and the
situations lyrical, instrumental or otherwise in which
it works best.
Lyrically, the situations are a bit more dire this time out, with
Nastasia's various heroes and heroines prostituting themselves in
budget motels, bailing their friends out of jail, and throwing
themselves off cliffs. The music matches the narrative gothic
and dusty and foreboding, simple repeating guitar movements serving
as the foundations for thundering drums, violently squawking violins,
horror-film piano, and an upright bass that seems to hold its belly
while chuckling evilly in the dark.
Nastasia's voice is not sweet, but it's not sour, either: its
strength is its earnestness and, more, its gravity. Lines like "One
lock of your hair in my grip/ Tears on my lip/ Cut from my bit" (from
"The Body") and "You lean to burn a cigarette/ And I roll up my
sleeve/ And you say you'll never leave" (from "Regrets") benefit from
Nastasia's refusal to sing in a certain style; to sing them with a
definite country lilt would pin her as a victim, to apply a rough
rockiness would make them echo with defiance. Rather, the ambiguity
in her voice makes her words and her songs exercises in subjectivity:
she is beaten, she is planning her escape, she has the upper hand.
Nastasia has a gift for evoking moods, and Run to Ruin is the
moodiest album of the year.