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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
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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
Touch & Go

On her third album, Run to Ruin, Nina Nastasia conducted a musical séance, shrouding her tunes in black-hearted shadows, stripping back arrangements so much that the disc dealt solely in the ghostly. It seemed, in such, less the work of Nastasia, and more the work of Nastasia And Band, with the tracks derived from the divinations of the whole combo, the songsmith's songs wrung out long and slow whilst her familiar family of players dangled spooky soundtrack-isms of bowed strings all over this communed craft. It was, for me, almost a little too wistful, its dust and cobwebs and haunting spirits all things that could easily be blown away by the barest of breezes. All this becomes incredibly clear, now, with the reissue of Dogs, Nastasia's largely-unheard debut album. Here, Nastasia's craft is presented in a straightforward setting, her first foray finding the artist delivering the best tunes of her life up to that point, with the band present strictly as "backing." Whilst the contributions of others can occasionally be dramatic — like the furious flurries of squalling scraped strings on "Jimmy's Rose Tattoo," or the, uh, hot-lickin' guitar solo on "Nobody Knew Her" — any of the other instruments are always paying deference to Nastasia's voice, lyrics, chords and melodies. There are even moments here where, blessedly, things're pared right back: the blissful neo-folksong "4yrs" is just Nastasia and some strummed chords, and "Smiley" just cascading jags of electric guitar backed by some droning piano-accordion. Whilst these moments are the most pared-down, instrument-wise, they're both robust in their delivery, Nastasia's pure voice pushed right up forward, expertly mic'd by microphone-fetishist Steve Albini so as to catch every gentle exhalation and unsticking of lips. Long before her voice wandered lonely as a cloud through the vaudevillian strings of her baroque band, and even longer before her band seemed to step gingerly through implied tunes, here Nastasia never fears to tread into singer/songwriter territories — the best bit being that, as singer/songwriter, she has an impressive way with words and works. Over delicate fingerpicking on "All Your Life," Nastasia authors a stunning song from stark simplicity, her deadpan couplet "heroin/ makes you thin" dueling with a chorus in which the simple repetition of "she's never coming back" is made profound by the purity of the vocalist's voice, something that stirs again in "Too Much in Between," where the cooing of "ooh, too much in between" is suitably staggering. Where her subsequent albums seemed to try and contrive mood, with Dogs Nina Nastasia lets the sentiments of her songs make the emotional pitch, and this record is all the more beautiful, powerful, and meaningful for it.

by Anthony Carew

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