Nina Nastasia: On Leaving

On Leaving might as well be called On Ageing and Disillusionment.

Nina Nastasia

On Leaving

Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2006-10-03
UK Release Date: 2006-09-11

I heard Nina Nastasia for the first time two years ago on a Songlines covermount CD. She was singing "On Teasing". I haven't listened to that song in a long time, but I can still remember her voice. She sang firmly over a simple guitar:


Should not tease

And play tricks

For a laugh.

Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

"On Teasing" had been taken from an album called Run to Ruin, which followed her earlier Dogs. John Peel championed her on his show and managed to rouse such enthusiasm for her lovely work that the out-of-print Dogs was reissued. Nowadays, she has a John Peel RIP banner on her MySpace page, and "Bird of Cuzco", one of the songs from On Leaving, originally appeared on a Peel tribute album.

The forthright intimacy of her style has seen her compared to Chan Marshall and Gillian Welch, although she's not as overtly anguished as the former and not as countrified as the latter.

In the back of the house in the room I used to sleep

I woke up and smelled burning wires.

For a month I wasn't me.

A thief would wait for me outside

And there were nights I would let him in.

No one ever found out...

… she sings at the beginning of On Leaving. Her voice is so quiet that I had trouble making out 'wires'. It could have been 'wives', or it might have been a different word altogether. Your enjoyment of this first song, "Jim's Room", is going to depend on your ability to sit very still and listen. There are no pyrotechnics. Her voice slips in without fanfare. "Jim's Room" is underway almost before you know it. Without the lyrics it would sound like a tumble of guitar underscored with the profound, slow boom of a large drum, finishing with an alarming wriggle of sound, as if insects have been disturbed, but Nastasia's voice singing about a thief outside and then a boy bathing ("I never saw you in your clothes") makes the song both poignant and intriguing.

On Leaving might as well be called On Ageing and Disillusionment. Time, in these songs, brings significant and unwelcome changes. It alters the way friends think of one another, leaving the singer in mourning for the connections that have been lost. Not all of the tracks are as soft as "Jim's Room" ("Brad Haunts a Party" is a ramping jolt of piano chords), but the mood remains one of wistful regret. The past, in her stories, is always better than the present. The future barely gets a look-in.

In "Lee", she remembers a boy who used to be a childhood friend, an equal, "more like a girl", until an incident one day changed everything. "As a man, you left angry", she sings. In "Bird of Cuzco", she is gentle to a cold and starving bird that seems about to die. In "Our Day Trip", she wants a friend to take a journey with her, but the friend decides to go to work instead.

Your free hand waving from the gate

The metal shining at your waist

You had so much more ambition.

The woman in "Why Don't You Stay Home" tries to persuade the father of her children not to run away again. "Why don't you stay home where you're loved? Where you'll never be hungry or lost, no stranger...". This hunger for safety and belonging is the album's other recurring theme. It seems significant that the only character who holds out against it is mentally retarded. "Alone I go and OK I be", this person boasts in "Dumb I Am", and her declaration is followed by a lingering chant, "Dumb, dumb, dumb...", leaving you wondering how OK she really feels.

The idea of loss is not new in songwriting but Nina Nastasia describes each case in a suggestive, abbreviated style that makes it seem unique. Only "Why Don't You Come Home" comes close to giving us too much and breaking the spell. Her music has a Quaker-barn plainness, the simplicity that gives you art without artifice. It's also terribly sad. On Leaving has an elegiac delicacy; it's an album to make you weep.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.