Sometimes the absence of sound can make an album great. Individual notes are given more attention when flanked by silence, pauses or white noise. The notes are given room to breathe, sustain and reverberate, whereas an overproduced album of non-stop sound would only cause these notes to get lost in the clutter of sound they were dumped into.
New York’s Nina Nastasia understands this Zen concept of musical Feng Shui. Her third, and latest, album, Run to Ruin, is a thirty minute exercise in sonic restraint. The musicians on her album never go so far as to be showy, though certainly don’t go unnoticed. The opening track, “We Never Talked,” is a brief dirge that never strays far from the simplistic opening drone. Nastasiaï¿½s voice is accompanied by cello, violin, accordion, upright bass and piano, each instrument standing out, yet never taking precedence over any of the others.
The next song, “I Say That I Will Go,” is an even better example of Nastasia’s stoic use of open space in song. Strings, guitar and drums follow her lead as the song swells and ascends into a gigantic gothic chamber symphony underneath Nastasia’s lyrics about a woman Hell-bent on going to torturous lengths to fulfill a promise. “Regrets,” by comparison, is a much less intense, sparer tune, consisting of Nastasia’s acoustic guitar and drums courtesy of the Dirty Three’s Jim White.
The stream-of-consciousness lyrics in “You Her and Me” mirror its creeping melody quite nicely. While Nastasia coos a tale of horror and misanthropy during a trip to the beach, a disturbing, though oddly catchy melody shuffles along, occasionally elevating in volume, though returning back to its lazily repeated phrases.
“Superstar” is the most straightforward tune on Run to Ruin, and one of the most interesting. It’s one of only a handful of songs on the album that stretches past 4 minutes and does so slowly, adding instrument by instrument, though never exploding into the crescendo one would expect it to. Rather, after accumulating 5 or 6 instruments in the mix, it ends as it began, with Ninaï¿½s soothing soprano over gently plucked acoustic guitar.
The musical extremes found on Run to Ruin tend to only work on albums this short. While a half-hour of melodies floating in space may seem brief, 80 minutes would seem endless — a musical equivalent of Kubrick’s 2001. But for these thirty minutes, Nastasia will capture your interest, captivate you and leave you drained.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.