So who is Nadine Shah? Well there’s not a lot of information about her, just that she is from Whitburn, South Tyneside (that’s near Newcastle in the North East of England, in case you’re not English). She has Pakistani and Norwegian parents and sounds like a cross between PJ Harvey and Marianne Faithful – sort of! Other people have said she has something of Nick Cave about her, but it’s more the mood she creates. You can imagine her on the same bill as these people but she’s not really like them – she’s like herself. What she does have is that dramatic warble in her voice that immediately puts here in a place where she can be compared to singers who do the same thing like Savages and Siouxsie. Anna Calvi also does it, and I really like the drama that singing like this creates in the songs. It’s been hard to decipher the lyrics and they don’t seem to be on line anywhere yet, but I also read that she is concerned about mental health issues and the rights people have if they suffer from a condition like this so I get the sense that the pain of these issues is in her – the cover art is angst, the title speaks volumes.
I’ve listened to this album three times in a row – the first track, Aching Bones starts with a metallic clatter and grinding fuzzy bass with some keyboards hitting sparse chords (she plays the keyboard). Her dramatic voice comes in and scares you to attention. I can’t really hear what she’s saying or know what anybody is doing on the record because I don’t have the cover art. I do know that she may just eat me for breakfast if I don’t listen. It’s like she wants you to learn something from her experience as she sings her woes. Another piece of information I picked up from the net was that two close friends committed suicide and the seriousness of her subject matter comes across here.
All this sound too depressing? Well it’s not like that, it’s about the intensity and how it traps you in her dark light. But this could be to do with her roots? I am presuming it is her father who is from Pakistan (otherwise she would called Hamsun or Alsgaard?) and the musical tradition of that continent seems to have penetrated her soul as she exposes it to us through her drones and moods. But then Nordic folk can be very dark and pagan and maybe it is simply both those things entangled in each other, plus her English upbringing in a cold part of the world.
To Be A Young Man the second track is a simple guitar bass and drums but the acoustic or whatever detuned string instrument it is, gives the song an unnerving feel. She warbles in harmony with herself like a rampant spectre groaning in the trees, feedback guitars (or something nasty) gurgles in the background. It’s all quite scary.
Runaway ( I posted the video), has those uncomfortable guitar chords and floor toms and suddenly she is no longer PJ Cave and more a gothic Johnette Napolitano. It’s a thin line, she’s one fuzz box away from a Dutch metal band.
The Devil has some Eastern European Romany caravan rite or a shadowy tavern that stops and goes silent when you walk in. Open fired flames making your eyes glare and eerie harmonies are all around you. You wonder if you will leave Bucharest alive.
Floating, has a guitar slowing down and speeding up analog effects, she sings and stops like she has had to go out of the room for a moment. “I’m sick to death of floating” she sings, acoustic and subtle drums and bass, sparse and live sounding fading to nothing.
All I Want, a sample keyboard loo,p “Darling hold my cigarette whilst I sing the blues” and for a moment I can hear KD Lang. I’m already dying to hear her next three albums.
Used It All, has a distant keyboard and odd noises and reverbs creating coldness. It’s really chilly in here, it’s like she’s singing in a walk in fridge – I’m freezing to death hearing this song. She has a pattern where she plays two chords off each other backwards and forwards – it creates an intensity that you can’t escape.
Dreary Town seems to be about living in London or dying in London? Is this where she loses one of her friends, I can’t hear the words but I get the feeling – it’s like the tragedy of Gloomy Sunday. It has that deathly lilt, waltzing with the ghost of your lover. On this track you can hear her accent, the dark Northern throat – it makes you take it more seriously.
Remember has a nostalgia, “I remember you as you were”, with an ensemble of odd wind instruments- are there oboes there? Strange muted horns.
Filthy Games might be June Tabor’s deeper darker sister, a desolate folk music from the barren lands between the North East towards a barren inland Northumbria.
Winter Reigns seems to dabble in folk again – oboe and piano under another sad tale of woe.
When I first heard this record I thought it was an indie record, then I thought it had tinges of gothic and hints of something metal, then it took me to KD Lang and Concrete Blonde and now I think it’s a folk album. I love it, it’s perplexing, scary, sad, intense, demanding and captivating.
Buy it and then listen to it. You don’t need to listen to it first.