Nina Nastasia makes you perk up and listen

Some songwriters have a gift for stringing together a coherent album, a solid group of a dozen or so songs of comparable quality that work well as a whole. Other songwriters seem to concentrate their powers in just a few songs, or even moments: they’re the ones who’ll make you perk up and listen whenever that certain perfect song comes along and demands your attention.

Nina Nastasia strikes me as a songwriter in the latter mode. It’s not that her albums aren’t solid and coherent—her recent records On Leaving and You Follow Me (with Jim White) are both excellent throughout. But then then there are those songs that just soar above the rest—like “Settling Song,” with its classic-ballad melody and palpable sadness, spiked with a barely-perceptible dash of wistful sweetness; or “Late Night,” in which Nastasia’s voice soars and she plays her acoustic guitar louder and louder and tells a story of horror, pain, and bitter disappointment.

Nastasia also seems to have a gift for writing tunes that aren’t as immediately obvious in their appeal, but which sneak their way inside you all the same, and perhaps end up having even greater power because of it. One example would be “Our Day Trip,” a deceptively quiet little tune from On Leaving. The arrangement is simple: an acoustic guitar strumming the chords, restrained, shuffling drums, Nastasia’s plain (if lovely) voice, and a piano offering punctuation here and there. The song sets a melancholy and plaintive mood from the start—but this feeling comes almost entirely in the music at first, in the quiet tension of the arrangement and in Nastasia’s delivery. The song’s speaker is addressing a lover, asking him not to go to work that day, offering an easily-realizable fantasy of escaping briefly to the country: “We’ve got just enough money / Let’s see how far we can amble / One day can make all the difference.” It’s only in that last bit that the lyric hints that something might be wrong here—that the two of them might be discontent, with their lives or with each other. But the speaker continues to maintain the fantasy for a while after that: “Two souls alone out on a lake / It will be a perfect afternoon / We can lose our clothes and have a swim.” As a listener, you’ve been welcomed into the dream by this point: you can feel the speaker’s longing for an escape, and the idea of it sounds great: peaceful, relaxing, sexy. But then comes the final verse (which ends the song, without a return to the chorus melody), and it dashes all hope, and breaks your heart. “Your free hand waving from the gate,” Nastasia sings, “The metal shining at your waist / You had so much more ambition.” And now we understand why the speaker wants to escape—she’s disappointed in how her lover’s dreams seem to be growing out of reach, and how he seems to have accepted this fact, which disappoints her that much more. She longs for a day of freedom with him, a way to recapture the dreams that they no doubt once shared with each other—a momentary return, at least, to a time when they not only loved each other, but also loved to imagine the great lives they might lead together. But now it seems to be too late for this—his dreams have passed him by, and a part of her love for him is gone, too.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Nina Nastasia makes you perk up and listen”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Recent Publications

Review of J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature, edited by Anton Leist and Peter Singer. The Quarterly Conversation, September 2010.

Review of Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. The Region, June 2010.

Review of The Man in the Wooden Hat and Old Filth by Jane Gardam. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 19, Spring 2010.

Review of 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About by Joshua Clover. ForeWord, November/December 2009.

Review of The Humbling by Philip Roth. Identity Theory, November 25, 2009.

Review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann. PopMatters, September 18, 2009.

Review of Wonderful World by Javier Calvo. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 17, September 7, 2009.

Review of Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson. Identity Theory, August 3, 2009.

Review of Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka. ForeWord, July/August 2009.

Review of Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54). Viewable online via Powell's Books

April 2008
M T W T F S S
    May »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

%d bloggers like this: