What does Nina Nastasia sound like?
Acoustic folk reflections with gothic singed edges.
The review of Nina Nastasia – Riderless Horse
There were twelve long years between Nina Nastasia’s sixth album ‘Outlaster’ and ‘Riderless Horse’, which was released in 2022. Those twelve years saw Nina withdraw from making music because she felt so much mental anguish about many things. ‘Riderless Horse’ is an album that packs a punch because of the story of those twelve years and it is a brutally honest assessment of life post grief, abuse, love and the little victories.
Nina’s style has always been bare-bones folk with a darkly gothic twist hiding under the surface. With this album, the music stays firmly in the acoustic folk area as the subject matter itself is the darkness. It’s just Nina and her acoustic guitar throughout recalling her relationship with her former partner Kennan. He produced her albums and they lived and created together for 25 years. However, the relationship was volatile and the two were toxically in love. One day in 2020, Nina decided to leave and the next day Kennan died by suicide. The album is a raw document of the feelings afterwards, told like a story. It opens with a wine bottle cork popping and the pouring of a glass. Then Nina pours her heart out.
The opening tracks speak of wanting to hide away. ‘Just Stay in Bed’ is about those moments where the bed becomes a shelter but also a duvet of memories that trouble you as much as comfort you. ‘You Were So Mad’ chronicles the wish that Nina had just stayed another night rather than leave. “Now I wish I had let you fill my ear full” she bellows. There’s no room to hide when it’s just voice and guitar and these thoughts make your heart swell over and over again. “We got off on the terrible times” is the confession in ‘This Is Love’, a wonderfully catchy track that tries to soften the punches with earworms.
‘Nature’ is far darker. Musing whether someone is born to abuse or whether you can pull yourself out of rage, the guitar darkly coils around Nina’s lilting and drifting voice. You can almost hear her drifting away into memories through the speakers and it’s utterly captivating. ‘Lazy Road’ has a rustic bounce to it that shines a light on moments of clarity, whilst feeling like a moth to a flame for pain too. The longest track is the central one. ‘Ask Me’ meanders and wanders like a drunken crooner before Nina declares “I love you but we’re closer to dying each day” and decides to choose “life over illness”. The song sounds so weary yet defiant, it could be an all-time folk classic.
After such a purge of emotion, ‘Blind as Batsies’ is a welcome pause for air. This pacier number recalls misadventures with happier notes and outcomes. It marks a switch in mentality where not everything is bleakly black. Yes, terrible things happened but not every day was horrific and with distance, Nina acknowledges this. In ‘The Two of Us’ Nina cries out that she knows where she’s headed now. I’m not sure if this is post-suicide or if this is a comment on meeting Kennan and feeling like a duo. It could be read either way but both have valuable insights whichever way it looks.
‘Go Away’ returns to heartbreaking confessions of an abusive relationship. With such a stripped-back production, the fact Nina is singing about becoming a problem to be buried with such clarity and rawness is astounding. ‘Trust’ is a particular stand-out with its bassy guitar verses and angelic haunted high octave chorus cry. ‘Trust won’t come easy’ wails Nina with a detuned oooh afterwards that cuts across being in and out of tune like a pained howl. That howl turns into a low ooh across the final minute of the song which reminds me of when children cry with a whine. It is a difficult listen but utterly captivating. ‘Afterwards’ closes out the albums musical songs with Nina making peace with the complex relationship – letting go of certain aspects of it and asking to be left be from it. A short field recording of a creek closes the album.
‘Riderless Horse’ is an absolutely outstanding album. A tour-de-force of storytelling, emotional unveiling and hopefully for Nina, some catharsis too. In the liner notes on Bandcamp, she says that through recording this album with a couple of friends, she rediscovered her love for making music again. Part of this, I’d imagine, would be down to eating, drinking, recording and sharing stories together like a family during the process. It is a remarkably honest portrait of a toxic relationship, warts and all. As a result, it is one of the most captivating albums I’ve heard in years.
Recommended track: This Is Love
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