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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Nina Nastasia
Dogs
Touch & Go Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


October 1, 2004
The animal lovers at Touch and Go Records like Dogs so much they decided to take in a stray. Thank god they didn't put it to sleep. Suffering only from neglect, the achingly beautiful out-of-print debut from acclaimed New York City singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia has been rescued and given a good home. That's something the broken-down characters she writes about - the same beaten mutts you pass on the street every day and turn a blind eye to - will probably never have.

Originally released in 2000 on Socialist Records, a small indie label started by Nastasia and partner Kennan Gudjonsson, Dogs is Nastasia's first record, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more accomplished debut.

I once heard Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot described as alt-country chamber music. Though fairly accurate, it seems more fitting for the earthy, hypnotic Dogs, where melancholy strings promenade with bass that quakes and moans, musical saw that whistles in the dark, acoustic guitar that barely breathes and drums so hushed you have to strain to hear them. The minimalist approach complements Nastasia's sweetly inflected vocals perfectly, providing her ample room to roam in higher registers. More importantly, it provides a delicate, simply adorned frame for lyrics that paint stark, but lovely portraits of Nastasia's beautiful losers.

Her hard-luck stories of lost souls sending out distress calls that go unanswered ring so true you begin to wonder after a while if they weren't lifted from the case files of a social worker. Take the woman who stands by her man, a smack addicted artist, in the heart-rending "Jimmy's Rose Tattoo." As cello and violin - played with elegant precision by Stephen A.F. Day and Juliann Klopotic - weep for her in the background, she does his dishes and lays out his clothes for the day on the bed. She usually goes about her business unnoticed - that is, until something triggers his hot temper. Then the strings turn sharp and angry as Nastasia sings, "He wanders in/ His mouth looks thin/ Like a child he stands there shaking/ I can feel his anger choke me," giving you a sense of his drug-induced cruelty. Helplessly, the woman still holds out hope for recovery. In the end, he succumbs and she can only "...watch him drift [and] close his eyes" and escape grim reality by falling 'inside picture frames" and "breathing in his oil paints."

Death doesn't take a holiday in Dogs. Set to clip-clop percussion and haunting violin that swells and subsides, "Underground" details just how far one would go to be with a dearly departed loved one. "Parachute me down to your cold, cold underground" she implores, admiring how the corpse is "so serene underneath the weeds." The rumormongers come out in the slow burning, Crazy Horse-esque rocker "Nobody Knew Her", spreading gossip about a car crash that took the life of a young man named Bradley who was out driving with a mysterious female companion. "Everyone's talking about you behind the gym/ They're sharing cigarettes, drinking beer out of Coke cans/ they're saying what a waste, you must have been loaded." Nastasia tears off a searing electric guitar salvo to show her indignation at the thinly veiled hints of infidelity, while also releasing the anguish of the woman who narrates the story, the same one Bradley left scorned.

Nastasia is a little like Johnny Smith, the psychic lead character in Stephen King's The Dead Zone. Shake hands with her and all your deepest, darkest secrets are revealed. She knows about your suicidal fantasies, like in "Roadkill", where the main character imagines lying in the middle of a highway and getting run over as the rhythm section's thunder builds in the distance. She knows how you bitch about being over-worked and then try to get ahead off the sweat and toil of others. And so her tone turns sardonic on "The Long Walk", where Nastasia tells the lazy bastard, "Your dogs are tired, so let them alone/ They're almost done with their mushing/ You've been working so hard/ No one can tell/ You've got so much to be proud of."

Just like her label, Nastasia has a thing for dogs. In "A Dog's Life", while Klopotic saws away on her violin, she dreams of a canine metamorphosis worthy of Kafka. While walking her dog at an amusement park, she turns into one herself and the two animals go running through the crowd, playfully barking at children as an evil old man chases them down. It sounds like a Disney cartoon, and it's one of the few moments of levity on Dogs.

Nastasia is like a secular Our Lady Of Sorrows, only Nastasia is made of flesh and blood, and nobody prays to her for salvation. Dressed in black, her heart's been pierced by the sadness and despair of others, and that empathy makes her a saint - at least as far as the indie community is concerned. I could tell you that Dogs sounds a lot like Kristin Hersh's Hips and Makers, especially in the swooning, string-laden ballad "Stormy Weather", a gorgeous piece of musical nostalgia that'll bring you to your knees - or that she's P.J. Harvey's softer, less abrasive alter ego, and those comparisons wouldn't be far off the mark. I could even bring up the Cowboy Junkies, Clem Snide or even Knife In The Water, but the truth is, Nastasia is a singular talent whose folk-tinged country songs go down strange, dark alleys to find the wretched refuse of society and listen to their tales of woe, however bleak and hopeless. Steve Albini, who produced Dogs and subsequent Nastasia records, thinks so too, and that's good enough for me.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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