Review Summary: From Russia with love
One can only imagine what kind of attention Nina Kraviz might have attracted had she chosen one of the many publicity shots that frame her in a more personable light than the beatific appearance apparent on the cover for this, her debut full length. A quick glance across internet forums reveals many a fierce discussion regarding the fact that Nina Kraviz is, indeed, a woman (packaged with all the necessary appendages and functions), and a rather attractive one at that. And it’s all rather obvious that Kraviz has used this furor to her advantage, taken this fascination regarding her gender (and at this point, it really is bordering on the obsessive fawning one might see illustrated in the journals and diaries of any full-blooded male high school student) and used it to her advantage. For the kind of sultry deep house that this hotly admired female pariah generously applies herself too is laced with the kind of flirtatious sexuality that would, in the wrong hands, appear downright laughable. For Kraviz, her music is very much the embodiment of her personality, her feminine identity at the forefront of her production.
But this isn’t handled in a kind of chest-beating “I am woman, hear me roar” fashion, but rather in a far more seductive and tempting way – more coy and sensual than anything overtly explicit or flagrant. This is dance music, but with candles and red wine in mind rather than a certain desire to be revealed in front of an audience. Melodies are gently teased out, slyly emerging like whispers; vocals are either disembodied ghostly hooks or delivered as defiant statements – at times Kraviz is decidedly evasive about tying herself down to one definitive idea or confronting argument, other times she’s direct and confrontational. She appears distant, even sleepy, still drunk on lingering afterthoughts; then the change, and she’s love-starved, an immense presence to be dealt with, almost vixen-like. As a parallel, the album plays out in a similar fashion, alternating between the bedroom blues of wistful ambiance and steamy, dense 4x4 romanticism. It fluctuates between lithe, vigorous sound design, and passages of vastly dense space and the distant murmurs of a lover scorned and deserted.
For all the hands-on-hips defiance present here, it very much seems like a shell, a defensive mechanism employed as a kind of emotional resistance. The majority of the tracks here begin with a touch of reticence, of noticeable hesitation as Kraviz collects her thoughts and attempts to find her voice. She begins always as a blur, caught in shadows before slowly emerging into the light; in the process her words progress from swirling ambiguousness into embodied authority. On ‘Petr’ she even utilizes her voice as a weapon, another instrument caught in a loop against the adventurousness of her thumping pads and snares. Even the immediacy of the disco-funk harbinger of ‘Choices’ finds itself caught in the shards of lustrous mysticism as Kraviz’s disembodied voice haunts along the outskirts; even when she operates at her most lyrically obtuse, like on preceding single ‘Ghetto Kraviz’, is there the sense that she utilizes her own fragile voice only when it’s of utmost importance to her. No matter how it might be implemented it’s born from meaning, from intuition; and when it is employed it ends up being that much more volatile and visceral, that it serves a purpose far greater than mere whimsy.
At times though does her vocal approach play out like a catch-22; Kraviz is a producer first, and a singer a distant second. When she cheaply rhymes “walking in the night” with “don’t you think that’s right” on album opener ‘Walking In The Night’, or decries “I don’t trust you anymore” with the kind of fierce repetition that would make even James Blake grit his teeth on ‘Taxi Talk’, you begin to question why more time wasn’t spent refining something that was undoubtedly going to be bought to such prominence. But there’s a certain kind of honesty to be had in the almost disparate longing, a down to earth approach that is both identifiable and relatable. Strangely though, when she turns the spotlight squarely on her vocals on the quiet storm that is album closer ‘Fire’ she comes out on top, falling somewhere in between the almost breathless President-baiting of a serenading Monroe and the quiet thunder of Emika, or perhaps even Kate Wax at their most unhinged. Nina Kraviz
is the work of an artist in line with the kind of attention to detail producers one might see on any particular weekend holding court at Berghain or Panorama Bar, but also of one very much looking to carve her own niche in the music world. And while her debut is far from faultless, it shows the artist well on her way to realizing her ambition. The kick is that the journey is going to be just as much fun to watch as well.