2003: Nina Nastasia - Run to Ruin

In the past decade, New Weird America has produced a folk hall of fame for our times, stuffed with portraits of pitchfork-wielding weirdos and their prim, bespectacled wives — the folk power couple Joanna Newsom and Smog’s Bill Callahan spring to mind. Under its fey influence, instruments like the fiddle, ukulele, and harp challenged the electric guitar’s hegemony, but as the onslaught was mostly acoustic, New Weird America in hindsight appears less revolutionary than the term suggests, more simply explained than all those freak-folk sub-genres led us to believe. It’s easy to see it now as a folk revival with a slight atonal edge, but folk nonetheless.

Run to Ruin is the No Country for Old Men of the New Weird America movement, an artifact of beauty and mystery that unsettles these certainties. It has the same effect as the movie did, being the kind of album people at dinner parties like to ‘have a go’ at decoding, a cultural Rubik’s cube, at least to those (at the most exclusive dinner parties of course) who are aware of its existence.

The off-kilter instrumentation — featuring instruments like the saw — could be dismissed as the stylings of a particular genre (folk/New Weird America), if each element were not essential. Instruments play creaking doors or whining insects, less strident voices in themselves, more sound effects in a spooky radio play. Steve Albini adds his patented touch and ensures that Run to Ruin, like the Coen brothers’ movie, creates a compellingly unique closed universe, even if it appears to do so against an impressionistic backdrop of mythic America. At times, the album plays like the soundtrack to a film noir that never was.

Each of Nastasia’s albums, but especially Run to Ruin, are really concept albums, and the songs don’t take well to mix tapes (I’ve tried). Their fragmentary nature makes Run to Ruin, at only 31 minutes, pass quickly as if it were a strip of landscape seen from the window of a car. There is no doubt that it’s an album of the road — maybe why those New Weird America atmospherics are required. Aborted conversations about the past and love scenes take place in cars. A short stay or imprisonment in a motel with thin walls is described in “Regrets.” Allusions to violence, money, and jealousy abound. “You, Her and Me” ends with sounds reminiscent of an ambulance siren fading into the distance, while the first track, “We Never Talked,” is the only one to refer directly to “that thing we witnessed.” The gloomy, tense track faces the strain of keeping secrets head-on, though the excitement of telling the story soon takes over, and the album becomes feverishly possessed with its own tale, even as its confessions remain cryptic, encoded. The last track, “While We Talk,” brings relief, describing a picnic where crumbs fall and secrets are spilled in the open, just as at the beginning of the album they’re shut up in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a car.

Although New Weird America was something of a catch-all term (uniting artists that were too diverse), what its practitioners seemed to harbor in common was an approach utilizing the poet’s strangeness, the ability to tell the truth, but tell it slant as Emily Dickinson advised. Perhaps the obtuseness of the term (sounding like it was coined at a party by stoners) was a cover, allowing artists to do interesting stuff quietly, without the hassle of explaining themselves. “It’s… New Weird America (man)…” might function very well as a reply to stump the interlocutor and let the resulting social tumbleweed obscure the question. The days of recording albums in deserted farmhouses had arrived once again, but unlike folk movements of the past, contemporary acoustic weirdness was less aligned with the idea of a folk proletariat and more with the unique vision of the artist, self-exiled (pretentious as that sounds). Run to Ruin is an example of such an album, and its greatest achievement is that it does not surrender to its own quirkiness as a Joanna Newsom might do in her weaker moments. Instead, it turns its dust-bowl strangeness into a shimmering backdrop, in the same way the classic Western uses the landscape as a blank canvas for the story it has to tell. Interestingly enough, Run to Ruin was not recorded anywhere in ‘new weird’ America; it was put down in the South of France. It’s a contradiction that could inspire a college essay: ‘the use of landscape in…’, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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