Setting her lone voice and guitar against Jim White's virtuosic drumming was a brave move on Nina Nastasia's part, given how engaging the Dirty Three stickman's work is on You Follow Me. But the drums only distract on first listen. After that, they underline and amplify the mood of Nastasia's narratives, by turns gently tidal and alarmingly unsettled. The absence of bass or second guitar doesn't leave the album skeletal and exposed so much as let the two collaborators reach out further and further until they fill the whole room. Engineer Steve Albini, revered for his crisp, upfront way of recording drums, works his magic here and never once obscures the songs' balmy core.
This is the fifth album of Nastasia's critically adored but otherwise underrated career. The title reads like a sequel to last year's On Leaving, and here she keeps at what she does best: crafting creepy, enigmatic songs from the debris of claustrophobic relationships. "I am not your enemy," she announces on the standout "The Day I Would Bury You," amid startling lines like "I always dreamt of the day I would bury you/I never thought on the day I'd stop hating you." The song begins on tiptoes and peaks in clattering disarray, only to slip back into calm as it closes.
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"I don't believe in the power of love," Nastasia sings on "Our Discussion," on which her simple strum plays the straight man while White explores sounds on every inch of his drum kit, conjuring an inner anxiousness that takes time to adjust to. Between White's outside-the-box approach and Nastasia's grim revelations, You Follow Me may initially seem less than accessible. But certain lines soon jump out and stick, guided by the bristling, badass instrumentation. And from there, listening is easy.