Monday, January 19, 2009

On First Listen: Nina Nastasia & Jim White- You Follow Me

I had heard Nina Nastasia's name mentioned on a message board a long time ago. I think it was in a thread about Steve Albini and given the man's obvious pedigree (well, obvious to anyone who has followed underground/indie music anytime during the past 20+ years), it made me file the name away for later investigation. Moreover, most of her albums have garnered generally good reviews and she's got those kind of album covers and album titles that smack of witty, moody, and interesting singer/songwriter-ish music. Throw Jim White into the mix--a surprisingly prolific drummer mainly known for his work as a member of the group The Dirty Three--and You Follow Me has been an album I have had in the back of my head for what seems like years. As she's signed to Fat Cat, who annoyingly release vinyl versions of albums in short overpriced print runs in the U.S., I finally broke down and got it from iTunes. But only because it was available there DRM-free through the iTunes Plus thing and I had a $15 gift card from Christmas to burn. On with the show:

1) I've Been Out Walking: Already it's apparent that Nastasia has a keen sense for how songs can be put together, how words can be sung and in what cadence they can be delivered. Already, too, it's apparent that this album is as collaborative as the co-billing suggests. Jim White is one of those drummers who shifts his playing to fit the musical project rather than having a definitive style. Here he takes a more immediate place on stage, his beats and accents as much keeping time as they are keeping up with Nastasia's voice and guitar.

2) I Write Down Lists: This song seems to weave in and out like waves before hitting a marching stride and then dying to nothing again. I'm getting a very improvisational vibe from this album so far, which is not something I expected. This is actually a bit more experimental and challenging than just your average singer/songwriter album, which would have someone signing nice or sad songs against a boring, typical singer/songwriter backing. This is an album as much about the interplay of Nastasia's guitar and White's drums as it is the words and melodies.

3) Odd Said The Doe: This song reminds me of something Cat Power or Mark Kozelek might sing. Maybe Cat Power covering a Mark Kozelek song. Man, White is really going to town on drums. It's quite jazzy and impressionistic. For just an acoustic guitar and drum kit, it's astonishing how much these two are able to do. Such power, such restraint. It's very elemental sounding.

4) The Day I Would Bury You: These songs have an unhinged feel to them, as if they weren't 'songs' with easily defined song 'structures' so much as they are confessions, non-rhymed free poems, stream of consciousness short stories, or dreams jotted down as the memory fades upon waking.

5) Our Discussion: On this track, White's drumming feels like chaotic, pointless sound that works against the song rather than for it. But as it rattles away in the background it begins to seem like a rainstorm pattering on the windows and roof as Nastasia sings to us. All along he listens carefully to her, pulling back as she does and firing back up as she does, too.

6) In The Evening: A song full of swagger. A lesser artist would begin or end the album with this. Again, it's amazing what a full sound they can get out of such minimalist and acoustic means.

7) There Is No Train: I'm trying to think of a good comparison for the sound of this album, but nothing is coming to mind. The way White plays in, around, and outside of what Nastasia is doing is unique and strange.

8) Late Night: Similar to the way a Sun Kil Moon song can move from delicate acoustics to full on rock power, 'Late Night' works from Nastasia practically whispering to a huge crescendo of volume and energy over and over. Nastasia has the sort of voice that reminds you of a few other people but with intense performances like this she surely becomes her own entirely.

9) How Will You Love Me: Listening to this album makes me think of all the loves I've had and all the loves I've yet to have. It's full of incredible emotion, giving you all kinds of scenes and visuals from very little.

10) I Come After You: This is a hell of a way to end an album. Really has a sense of vibrancy and finality to it. The album was shorter than I expected and it's left me wanting more.

First impression?? This is a really fascinating album. Not at all what I was expecting. It'll take a few listens to truly 'get' what's going on here between Jim White's jazzy/improvisational drumming and Nastasia's wide range of vocals and acoustic guitar strumming. Look for a full review soon.

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