To achieve stadium arena fame in the music industry, you have to be very lucky and at least somewhat talented. Many times, it seems the most exciting new acts are unfairly ignored for arbitrary corporate reasons, but boutique agencies work to find those gems and polish them with care and attention. My first job out of college was at an agency with exactly that goal and I knew someone that dedicated her life to it. Nadine Gelineau introduced me to the undeniable talent in Ngaiire (“rhymes with diary”!), and though we never realistically expected to get the privilege to work with the Australian pop star, I know that Nadine would have loved her stunning brand new record, Blastoma.
Ngaiire is an unstoppable force of rhythm and power. I was lucky enough to see her perform live at last year’s Culture Collide music festival in Echo Park. A perk of my job at the MuseBox, the music development and PR firm founded by Gelineau, included getting a media pass to see some of my clients play the fest. Let me be clear: I did not enjoy being a publicist, mostly because I lacked the proper background or experience, but I felt that I was doing some good for these struggling artists.
In order to understand a new client’s work, I would need to spend time with it (and I also needed a lot of patience). But as difficult and humiliating as it sometimes felt to deal with music journalists that were ornery and hard to reach, that job made me a better music lover. As a dedicated reader of many of those blogs, I became far more intense about how I pined for new artists, but, admittedly, this probably wouldn’t have happened without the right environment. Nadine set a great example, poring through new music every chance she got when she wasn’t handling “business,” whether in the form of a needy client or an aggravating financial matter.
Often, I noticed that our tastes generously overlapped, and even as my superior, she respected my opinion. When I heard her listening to snippets of Arc, the 2013 album by Everything Everything, I made sure to tell her that was one of my favorite records of all time. She continued to listen to it for the rest of the day. I would be remiss to not mention our greatest similarity, and that would be our love for The Killers; she helped to create their career, even before “Mr. Brightside” became everyone’s ringtone (remember, it was 2004). Examining the lineup before Culture Collide began last fall, Nadine gushed to me about the force of nature Ngaiire would prove to be; obviously, she did not disappoint. And, with these memories, Nadine’s spirit and the careers of dozens of musicians that I love- Ngaiire included- are inextricably linked.
Ngaiire played in a church that night at the international music fest, joined by two spunky back-up singers and a live producer with only a couple spotlights providing light in the dim room. I got in late, but spied Nadine sitting up front, in the center aisle, rocking with her signature good-vibe sway. I can’t recall the exact setlist, but I remember feeling every ounce of Ngaiire’s power reverberate off the stained glass, through me. Calling it a religious experience seems gratuitous, but, given the spiritual nature of her lyrics, it’s really the only appropriate description.
On Blastoma, Ngaiire and her collaborators Paul Mac, Jack Grace, and Megan Washington create a rich texture of sounds and sentiments. Deep synths draw you into the opening track; provide an imonious pulse in “Cruel”; and, along with a number of other gorgeous tones, even create a sense of wonder in “House on a Rock.” Mac and Grace are responsible for the record’s production, which succeeds in not only creating a diverse fabric for the colorful and occasionally somber stories therein, but also complements Ngaiire’s voice in an inexplicable way. Her vocal acrobatics, though subtle, are hard to ignore. The way she bounces along with the rhymes in “Diggin” or the bassline in “Once” are infectious enough; couple that with the genuine emotion of every lyric, and I am reduced to a puddle. Her sharp cries in “I Can’t Hear God Anymore” mimic the pain of my own loss, and while it still hurts, listening to that track comforts me.
Nadine Gelineau passed away in early April after a swift battle with lung cancer. I worked in her home office every day for a year and a half, but never knew her health was deteriorating. There was no reason to suspect it; she was active, and remained dedicated to her life’s passions until the very end: in addition to her tireless commitment to the local music scene, she was a regular volunteer at NKLA and a vocal environmentalist. (I remember how excited she was at the announcement of the Expo metro line expansion to the beach, which she never did get to ride herself.)
She was never a woman of faith, but these lines in “Can’t Hear God” hit :
“You were the best and the worst person I ever met. It was the strangest wizardry”
Broader context proves that Ngaiire is referring to a past lover, but to say I didn’t love Nadine would be inaccurate (at least given how limiting the English language is). She gave me my first real job, and was the sole reason I moved across the country to LA. She took a risk on me and I did the same, with a mutual trust that it would all work out. I won’t forget that, and now in the wake of her passing, I find it hard to justify the many insults I lobbed behind her back when I was frustrated with work. I appreciate you, Nadine, and should have said this before I quit the MuseBox; my life was destined to lead me to LA, and I am forever grateful that you were the catalyst that brought me here.
And now I wear black: “Yeah it’s over, I’m shedding my skin, slipping in and out of color again,” but my mourning won’t last forever. Nadine’s spirit, however, will always live on.
Words: Zoë Elaine
Ngaiire’s new album Blastoma was released June 10. You can purchase it here.
NGAIIRE – “Diggin”
NGAIIRE – “Once”