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Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink

21 Jul

Nadine Shah is a 34-year-old English singer-songwriter of Norwegian-Pakistani origin. Her fourth album, Kitchen Sink, is an exploration of every part of that identity: looking ethnically ambiguous, being British in today’s world, and most of all – being an unmarried, childless 30-something woman.

If that sounds hefty, be heartened: it’s not. Shah navigates these weighty topics with ease, wit and humor, all bound together by her enchanting voice.

We’ve already lauded the title track “Kitchen Sink” here on Top Five Records – a sparse, tightly coiled ditty on not giving a damn about your detractors. We had made special note of Shah’s dark, deep voice; that instrument carries many more songs on the record. “Wasps Nest” could be a love child between PJ Harvey and Devendra Banhart: slow-moving mystique made more mysterious by Shah’s tremulous, rich vocals.

Of course, to be a great singer, it’s not enough to just have the voice: it’s also important to have the right milieu for the voice to shine. Kitchen Sink does well to showcase Nadine. For example, “Kite” is a chilling, sparse hymn built primarily on a few plucks and echoing chorals – a black-and-white outline for Shah’s voice to color in. “Walk” mixes South Asian street beats and jazzy quirks to produce a quirky stop-start rhythm – and no surprise, this suits Shah’s brawny pipes.

Beyond her awesome voice and great musical sense, Kitchen Sink is, as we noted at the start, remarkable in the way it encapsulates so many pieces of Nadine’s identity. On the aforementioned “Kitchen Sink”, Shah talks about the suspicious glances that her inscrutably ethnic looks invite from neighbors. Meanwhile, on “Ukrainian Wine”, she paints a striking picture of getting shitfaced on shady wine while others are “playing mummy and daddy” and buying homes (she’s still renting hers). “Trad” could be the morning after a night of hard drinking, where she visits the same themes in a much more sober light. “Shave my legs, freeze my eggs / Will you want me when I am old?” she asks an unseen man, before liltingly requesting: “Make me holy matrimony”.

In fact, it’s the naked balance she delivers on “Trad” – between want and need, vulnerability and boldness – that best defines the album. Kitchen Sink is an auditory banquet that alternates between fast and slow; between deep and tongue-in-cheek; between the slice-of-life and the quite surreal. And Nadine Shah’s powerful, expressive voice is the singular driving force through it all. Recommendation for this one: listen on good headphones. You won’t regret it.

Best songs: “Kitchen Sink”, “Wasps Nest”, “Ukrainian Wine”

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