As with Nastasia's last two albums, Run to Ruin
was smashed out in about a week with Steve Albini fingering the knobs. Unlike previous outings, it was recorded overseas, in a studio stuffed deep inside the bucolic rolling hills of Noyante La Gravoyere in France. You can hear the setting in the songs -- this is Nastasia's most Francophile-friendly set yet. That doesn't mean the songs are "cowardly" and "pro-terrorism" (I'm no drooling nationalist); it just means that Nastasia and her band are little more relaxed and unhurried this time around. Last year's The Blackened Air
housed sixteen tracks; there are only eight here, and they're longer, though the album runs a succinct thirty minutes. Run to Ruin
is no novel-sized epic; the band went to France and captured only what they had at a unique place and time, then got out. Fear not, though -- Road to Ruin
does not play like a tourist's scrapbook. Nastasia's gaze is still directed inwards, obsessed with the vivid minute imagery of relationships and an increasing dark streak -- a still-blackening air.
Though she's a card-carrying singer/songwriter, Nastasia almost never falls back on the clichés that often give that tag its tiresome, stale connotation. Her rich, nervy music would be out of place at a coffee shop -- a decrepit Welsh pub whose house wine is moonshine would fit far more snugly. In that way, Nastasia is akin to Mirah and Shannon Wright, though she is bleaker than the former and less prone to spastic outbursts than the latter. Nastasia's voice is subdued and almost ordinary, though it can trill on stunning highs on songs like "The Body".
For this album, Dirty 3's Jim White replaces Jay Bellerose on drums, and he helps lend the disc the same overcast tempestuousness he brought to Cat Power's Moon Pix. Run to Ruin has more baroque moments than that album, though, thanks to ornate smatterings of accordion, banjo and a mini-symphony of varying strings. Gerry Leonard's deft dulcimer hammering nearly steals the exquisite "I Say That I Will Go". For the most part, the track broods on a pair of eerie notes, but Leonard's presence makes it exciting, as do Nastasia's craftily rhymed lyrics ("up the access stair to cash my paycheck there / and down again to fare the dirty city glare / through the motor squall, to the south I bear").
Run to Ruin is short but immersive. Queuing "I Say that I will Go" in the Boombox between Gossip and Neil Hamburger tracks won't clue you in to its wormy charms; you have to dip your entire body into its inky pool. After that first startling plunge, you'll dive in willingly.