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Nina Nastasia - Dogs

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Artist: Nina Nastasia

Album: Dogs

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Aug. 3, 2004

This litter of pups dropped in Chicago, but I’m not sure its narrator would be comfortable in an urban setting. The lyrics introduce us to a character who, for simultaneous good and ill, can hide in the Rockies and Appalachians in her skull whenever things get hairy on the outside. As they often do.

Our gal seems intent on communicating something or other, something enormous, but it’s hard to tell what. She might have difficulty translating it even if she understood it herself. Dogs begins with “Dear Rose,” an apologetic Post-It to a wounded loved one that lends no clue what the writer did wrong. As we go on, she feels her way through all varieties of horrifying circumstances (a violent fire-and-ice relationship on “Oblivion,” watching a junkie succumb to shriveling apathy on “All Your Life,” and a visit from psychedelicized childhood demons on the centerpiece “Stormy Weather”), but she always seems time zones away from the day’s news. As she can’t or won’t explain herself, the people who show up to help her don’t always know what they’re doing, and she’s not much help. (“You’re not a bitch / It’s your job / Tease me / Push me / Under your thumb I am tiny,” she goads someone named “Smiley.”) Makes you wonder if god hates the shy.

Dogs is Nina Nastasia’s recovered debut, and it’s easy to read it like an outline. Despite the strings, accordion and singing saw, the disc feels as stark as an abandoned building. Nastasia and producer (or “engineer” – what-ever) Steve Albini behave as if they fear that, should they allow any of the glam-rock eccentricities currently indulged in by the Newsoms and Banhardts, the cops would show up.

Nastasia lacks Neko Case’s belt – she rarely transcends an off-kilter stage whisper – but most every number here is melodically simple and wrenching enough to be called country.

Let’s hear it for the introverts. For those about to withdraw, we salute you. If the dogs in your noggin want to lick the moon, ain’t a damn thing stopping them.

By Emerson Dameron

Other Reviews of Nina Nastasia

The Blackened Air

On Leaving


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