Review Summary: Nina Nastasia's sophomore album is haunting and at times, even caustic, but there's a heart to it.The Blackened Air
is the second album by folk artist Nina Nastasia and like the one that came before it and the four that have come out since, it was recorded by famed noise rock producer Steve Albini. That’s right, the same Steve Albini who sat behind the mixing board for In Utero
, Surfer Rosa
, Rid Of Me
and countless others. It turns out his organic analog style of production lends itself perfectly to the haunting chamber pop found on the The Blackened Air
. Nina Nastasia has said she practices her songs in the bathroom and at its heart, that’s what this album is; a collection of folk songs written during self-imposed solitary confinement in a ceramic floored room.
The songs are carried along by Nastasia’s plain voice and simple guitar playing, but hanging in the air above them you find a demented backing group of mostly cello, accordion, violin, and saw. As if her inner demons were given voices and slipped out through her confessional songs. For the most part they hang around and taunt the listener with their abrasive textures. Like a haunted house that creaks and settles menacingly, the songs are never able to quite fool you that they’re innocent. There are most certainly ghosts present in these songs. Occasionally they tear forth and create ungodly shrieks that are more related to Sonic Youth’s noise jams than anything else as on the second half of Ocean
. But just as quickly, they disappear completely on the following track Rosemary
, possibly the sweetest sounding song of the whole bunch.
The backing instruments aren’t the only thing darkening these songs, the lyrical content is just as bleak. Opening track Run All You…
references Nastasia’s debut album Dogs
with lyrics that describe flames that “burn all your little houses down to their shadows” as dogs that do so at the narrator’s behalf. Whether Nina Nastasia is an arsonist or not is up to the listener. Death is also a common theme found in Oh, My Stars
where Nastasia describes as her father chases an intruder through the house and mentions “he wished he killed him”. In The Graveyard
has Nastasia somberly musing about visiting someone in the graveyard remarking “but I’m still lonely and I’m not ready”. And the aforementioned Ocean
has her singing “I died right in the ocean/ I died just like a whale/ I died right in the ocean” before it swallows you whole.
The Blackened Air
is only forty five minutes long but with its 16 tracks, getting through it can be a daunting task. One best left for stormy summer nights with only a cup of tea as your companion; maybe you can even listen to them in the bathroom to give them the proper atmosphere. The songs here are not light ditties; they’re weighed down by twisted embellishments and somber lyrical content. It can be abrasive but in its sharp edges there is a somewhat masochistic beauty.