In the past three years, Siberian-born DJ and producer Nina Kraviz has quickly established herself as a respected and outspoken member of the underground dance music community. Taking cues from the more avant-garde strains of house, her discography has put a refreshingly feminine spin on a style of music that's, generally speaking, about as masculine as professional wrestling. Unfortunately, her recently released debut LP, Nina Kraviz, falls short of the higher points of her career so far.
Recorded over the course of two years, the LP is an atmospheric work that evokes dark moods and emotional lows. It's intended to be an intimate reveal, yet it lacks a sense of directness that ultimately robs the album of its immediacy. The result is about an hour's worth of material that plays out with all the seriousness and drama of a subtweet.
It begins with "Walking in the Night." Effectively a prelude for what's to come, it's a beatless soundscape that introduces the character of Kraviz with a droney fanfare of church organs and acid blips. As a short intro it would have been fine, but as a full, four-minute track, it feels excruciatingly long. The only dynamic element is Kraviz's breathy invocations that see her cheaply rhyming "don't you think that's right" with "walking in the night." Throwing in strained soulful flourishes, it becomes apparent that singing and songcraft are not Kraviz's strongest suits.
This wouldn't be an issue, but the record's songs are mostly structured to feature her voice at the fore. Following the model of "Walking in the Night," the instrumental elements of her vocal cuts are kept static to allow space for her to wiggle in and fill out the mix. Predictably, the LP's low points are those songs that feature Kraviz front and center. Tracks like "Love or Go," "Taxi Talk," and "Turn On The Radio" all see her vamping vague, and sometimes incomprehensible, phrasings over grooves locked on autopilot.
The LP's better moments come when Kraviz puts herself in the background to focus on the instrumental side of things. Diversions like "Working" and "4Ben" are texturally dense works that show off the breadth of her programming ability. Similarly, the quasi-vocal "Petr" works in the same way by using swells of voice to create a simmering cut that stands out as the LP's best. Restrained and held back, it's a slow boiler of a track that ought to be released as a single for DJ play. As it stands, "Ghetto Kraviz" takes that honor, but at a little under four minutes, its "Footcrab"-on-cough-syrup aesthetic barely has a chance to get off the ground.
In the end, Nina Kraviz is a disappointing record, but one that shows promise for the future. She's obviously coming from the right place conceptually, but it seems that restraint and more time spent on vocal work is what's needed for her to fully realize her sound across an LP's worth of material.