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Nina Nastasia, armed with expressive vocal melodies and understated guitar, can command the emotional power of an orchestra with her modest quartet. Unfortunately, she doesn’t always choose to. On Leaving, the New Yorker’s first record for the boutique British indie Fat-Cat, initially shows great promise, but its lack of sonic variety soon wears thin. “Jim’s Room,” the LP’s striking opener, highlights Nastasia’s fusion of Billie Holiday’s growl and Ella Fitzgerald’s coquettishness, bandmate Dylan Willemsa’s Firebird-esque viola, and her abstract, lovelorn lyricism (“A thief would wait for me outside/And there were nights I would let him in”). “Brad Haunts a Party” is a rocker of sorts, its pounding piano reminiscent of Nastasia’s ballsy debut, Dogs, and follow-up The Blackened Air. The song captures the giddy energy of tracks like Dogs’ “A Dog’s Life” that made her a hipper, cringe-free version of Ani DiFranco. But too often on On Leaving, Nastasia sounds ghostly without sounding haunting, and 12 tracks’ worth of her unrelenting ephemerality is too much. On a louder record, the spare arrangement and quirky, baroque piano runs of “Treehouse Song” would offer a welcome reprieve for the ears; here, when Nastasia offers a portrait of “you and I on the highest frond of a very tall tree” over a ponderous 3/4, she’s not precious—she’s gag-me cutesy. The overly serious, unfortunately titled “Why Don’t You Stay Home” is crushed by a similar waltz-centricity. Recording nerds will blame this record’s glum vibe on producer Steve Albini’s cartoonishly minimalist aesthetic, and certainly, On Leaving would benefit from the occasional keyboard, drum machine, or doubled vocal—Nastasia’s flirtation with avant-chamber music doesn’t brighten her record’s palette the same way PJ Harvey’s “Man-Size Sextet” anchored Rid of Me. Ultimately, the fault lies with On Leaving’s competent but conservative vox. Nastasia’s refusal to push herself beyond her vocal comfort zone—the way Björk lights up “It’s Oh So Quiet,” or Michael Stipe goofs on Elvis, or H.R. sings…well, anything—is a waste of a sparkling set of pipes. “Settling Song” is a worthy shuffle-mode discovery, but in sequence it’s the umpteenth ballad Nastasia phones in on On Leaving. By the time it floats from the speakers, familiarity has already bred contempt, and this songstress knows it: “I could only lie down as your mistress/Because I gave you away,” she sings. Ostensibly, Nastasia’s singing about a lover, but she could just as easily be singing about her own voice. —Justin Moyer