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Nina Nastasia: Outlaster

Nina Nastasia: Outlaster

Label:Fat Cat
Release Date:2010

By Michael Byrne | Posted 6/16/2010

In which one of the past decade's best singer/songwriters grows way up, out, and apart. Taut and emotive, Nastasia's voice can do nearly any acrobatic asked--and does--but more often it's sulking and even. It sways within slow, chamber-orchestrated waltzes and slowly stepping folk songs that are drawn but not sallow. The strings are a bit too immaculate, ostentatious even. And what's that, a French horn? Nastasia is a songwriter who could, in the past, devastate with a few well-placed, understated cello notes and an icy melody. With what sounds like an entire symphony backing her on Outlaster, the chill is blown-out. In its place are all-in, multistory dramatics.

Nastasia is more than 10 years on since her simple and sad heroin eulogy Dogs came out to surprising fanfare (after a Touch and Go rerelease), back before mainline indie-folk music hit big in its "weird" (Devendra Banhart and the rest) or "other" (such as Mirah, which hunts a little closer to Nastasia's stylistic home) forms. Outlaster is exactly what the title implies: living on. Not surviving, but supersurviving, outliving yourself and everything around. "What can forever but misery bring?" she sings on the title track. "A thousand years trailing forgotten friends."

The record battles with itself. There is the same affecting songwriter down there, with simple melodies and a guitar. There's also these orchestrations that are big and precise. And there's the concept, this outlaster idea. It's the first and last of those that linger--the figure in "What's Out There" holed up some years after an apocalypse, as is chamber-folk tribute to 12 Monkeys--and reflecting "An empty space, a new beginning, nothing saved." Or maybe that figure is plotting: "What you have won? You want the air to be easy to breathe/ We had a plan, a way to drown out/ the howling in the street." Almost everything in the lyrics is dead or past, and Nastasia does well at sounding very alone, but not so much sad. The music, however, is sad but hardly alone.

E-mail Michael Byrne

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