Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best Albums of 2016 - Number 8

the beat is dead

It's a strange phenomenon when I don't much like a band or artist, but absolutely love bands or artists who are clearly and obviously influenced by them. I find that happens to me quite a bit and most notably happens with The Smiths. I was just never into them (I should be in theory, I know), yet so many bands I love wouldn't exist without them. Prime example is Girl in a Coma. I fucking love this band, and I would be a fool not to hear Morrissey in Nina Diaz's delivery and their overall sound. And now, Nina released a solo album that brings forth, not just Morrissey and The Smiths, but a whole lot more. This album, The Beat is Dead, seems to rise from electronic 80s sounds and some very classic rock and new wave, but with a definitively current casing. Nina is not afraid of her influences because she doesn't have to be - her talent, as writer and singer give her wings and her confidence is what is ultimately on display.

And that confidence is even more impressive when you realize how personal this album is. Nina is a recovering addict, a fact she has been very open about on all her social media and press for this album. This music is all about her journey to (through?) recovery and, I get the sense, is a big part of that recovery as well. In less capable hands, that could wind up being an on the nose, bunch of journal entries set to music. But Nina has been doing this since she was 13 and even at that age she knew metaphor, poetry and raw emotion better than most. So the result is an album about a bad relationship, maybe even a break-up album, where the other person is addiction or even just the darkness within.

The journey starts when it all seems to be great, as "Trick Candle" is a euphoric rush. But it has a dark undertone to it, like some apocalyptic, spiraling dance. It's seductively unhinged and manic. Following this club raver, comes the Yaz evoking electro power ballad of "Queen Beats King," because that dance came with a bittersweet cost. When she sings "all he seems to care about is fame," I have to wonder if she means an actual person or the drugs themselves. I'm sure there's a full story in there, but this feels like a loaded album with levels of story to each song.

The mania continues in "Rebirth" which opens with a very theatrical intro and has a driving, stalking rhythm and a chorus of "I'm back from the dead like I told you friend, I will not love you until you are my enemy" continuing my feeling that the addiction is a character in this, very real, haunting tale. The thing about it is, even if that's not necessarily her intention, the fact that it's even remotely possible to interpret it this way means she has done her job as a writer - as a poet.

The up and down of this album maybe reaches a peak in "January 9th" which to me feels like the moment she really decides to try to do something about her addiction. Not that the rest of the album will be easy and everything resolved, but here she sings "I don't wanna be the bad one, I don't wanna be the sad one, that you find" and while the song is literally referring to memories and that she doesn't want to be the sad memory in the back of someone's mind, I can't help but think of a body being found after an overdose. I have to wonder if she wasn't, too. Could she be saying she doesn't want to be found that way? I don't know. Maybe that's too literal and I'm missing my own point (see previous paragraph), but then, maybe it's levels again. On the one hand, I'd love it if she made commentary tracks for each song on Spotify as some artist's are doing now. On the other, I wonder if maybe knowing the specifics would break the spell.

I could go on, but the fact is, this album is just moving in the way only Nina's vocals can achieve. The second to last song, "For You" is one of the most beautiful traditional ballads I've heard in a long time. In her recent NPR Tiny Desk, she said she hopes this becomes a song people lose their virginity to in back seats. It's a song of pure devotion, with no hint of cynicism to it - much like the rest of the album, in it's own way. As a whole, the album is devoted to honesty and poetry and raw emotion. It's devoted to exorcising demons through art for purposes both selfish and necessary to altruistic and commendable. And it's all in a package that's easy to listen to and even dance to if so inclined. I look forward to seeing her next steps.

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