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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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Nina Nastasia
Run To Ruin
Touch and Go

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.

by Neal Block

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