on 28 August 2002
What a pleasure it is to discover an album of absolute artistic perfection simply by chance alone. I will never forget the first time I heard Nina Nastasia's voice. It was 2am and I couldn't sleep. I was exhausted, I was down... and then I turned on the radio and heard the song "Rosemary".
In "The Blackened Air", Nina Nastasia has carved majesty out of pure simplicity. With the aid of an acoustic guitar and the Texan lilt in a voice that personifies the word lullaby, she never loosens her grip on your heartstrings as she tugs them from start to finish, leaving you in no doubt that the world is indeed a beautiful place. How rare it is for an album to be both reflective and insightful without at any time being bleak. "There's nothing wrong with us, we still belong" she muses on "That's all there is", the albums fitting finale.
With Steve Albini at the helm in the studio, it's not hard to see how this cowgirl could do no wrong with her debut album. Country and western influences are present throughout the album such as on "So little" and "Been so long" but this should discourage those unfamiliar with this genre. The album manages to blend the complete melodic command of a youthful Neil Young with the subtle yet striking lyrics of P.J. Harvey. This album is an absolute must for anyone who has ever laid claim to even the remotest interest in either of the aforementioned artists.
This records real genius is its ability to move along at real pace despite almost all of the songs sauntering along with the ease of a summer afternoon. With only 7 of the 16 tracks being over two and a half minutes long, this songstress is only to willing to demonstrate again and again, in quick succession, just how beautiful subtlety can be.
The albums strongest tracks for me are 10, 11 and 15. "Ocean" is almost inaudible initially as first double bass then guitar lull the listener into a false sense of calm before the storm. When she lets loose at the start of verse three, you are left in little doubt just how strong a force of nature is present in us all. If the heart-felt sentiments of a love and innocence lost in the song "Rosemary" fails to leave a lump in your throat I would have a lie down and check your pulse! And then there is "Little Angel", sung from Heaven above, penultimately placed to rouse those few remaining doubters out of the dark and into the dawn of this prestigious new talent.
There is little left to say. I like my music, I know my music, and I can honestly say that "The Blackened Air" is one of the most moving, most exciting and most perfectly constructed albums I have ever heard!
on 23 September 2002
This is an album to stop you dead in your tracks. There's really very little going on - mainly voice and guitar - and what there is, is very low-key. But its absolutely captivating.
Quietly spoken but never mellow, the songs are sometimes whistful but always with a sort of disturbed undercurrent. It's like she's always hinting at something darker and can never quite say it.
You might call it country/folk. You'll be tempted to mention Nick Cave or PJ Harvey. But Nina Nastasia is more subtle than any of those. Musically, there are bands like Low similar ideas, but the songs here are so much better. At times the atmosphere dial is cranked up to 11, and Steve Albini had added the odd squiggly noise here and there to make absolutely sure. By that time you're so sunk into it they can get away with anything.
Current favourites for me are 'In the graveyard' and 'Ugly face', but it's the sort of lp that you pick a new favourite from every time you listen.
Please buy it. I need her to do some more.
on 5 November 2002
I am listening to the Blackened Air right now after having put it away for a while, and it still gives me chills. The record casts such a strong mood that I have to unplug the telephone when I listen to it so as not to be interrupted for a moment.
Nina Nastasia’s first album “Dogs” is currently worth its weight in Sterling, as it was only issued in a short run from Nastasia’s own label Socialist. If you were lucky enough to obtain a copy (as I was sadly by way of piracy) you likely noticed its soft, sad character - like the heartbreaking solo title track Dear Rose - which is broken up by punch-drunk electric numbers like Smiley, and cathartic rock ballads like All your life and Nobody knew her. It is a beautiful, melancholic record, and it's a shame that it’s so hard to find.
The Blackened Air is perhaps a sequel to “Dogs”, the first track describing a litter of them being consumed by a fire. The personality of this record is different from “Dogs” in a few ways. It has a subtle American country style to it that the first record doesn’t have. Although the instruments are roughly the same - mostly the same people perform - The Blackened Air I would describe also as musically “heavier”, with a more continuous bass and drum untertone, and more scribbly string melodies in contrast to the long, slow violin and cello washes of “Dogs”. The lyrics, for which Nastasia has a genuine talent, still often cover grave subjects, but the record comes off oddly on a more reassuring note.
The Blackened Air is a treasure that doesn’t tarnish. I recommend it highly to those who fancy music that outlasts fashion. And if you’ve a good platter, I urge you to try the vinyl.
on 16 July 2002
Definately one of the best albums of the year. Steve Albini brings his minimalist production techniques to a genre that has needed them for a long time. The poignancy of songs such as 'Ocean' and '..Graveyard' is enhanced by the lack of distracting gimmicks which tend to spoil other country albums.
Although most reviews of this album try to avoid calling it a country record that is essentially what it is. Don't let that put you off though as Nina Nastasia possesses one of the most beautiful voices in popular music today, the songs are all beautifully written and the production is perfect. If this album doesn't break your heart you are very bitter person.
on 12 May 2004
I own 3,000+ albums, but few of them are better than this one. Quite simply the best record released so far this decade and I'm certain it will be regarded as one of the all time classic LP's when the suitable period of time has passed.