Release Date: Feb 4, 2014
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Folk
“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you” – Maya Angelou At last, catharsis has brought Marissa Nadler here. The oblique references, metaphors, couching reality in third person characters have shed away on July. Nadler ushers us by the wrist to survey her scorched Earth; splaying her demons out before us like never before, she decimates the narrative wall between her and us.
The question of whether Marissa Nadler's elegant folk music ought to soundtrack our dreams or haunt our nightmares has been a thread through her uncannily cohesive catalogue. With six albums in 10 years and never a misstep, Nadler has grown her own perceptive language—she's an old-soul lost in time like Sibylle Baier, but her music is blackened and more literary. Her songs have come steeped in misery and macabre, cobwebs and ashes, but Nadler is not a doomy aesthete merely for gloom's sake.
An initially unlikely partnership that, if you think about, makes perfect sense, July sees folkgothic singer songwriter Marissa Nadler team up with producer Randall Dunn, best known for his work with drone stalwarts Earth and Sunn O))). Dunn’s experience in capturing the extremities of noise demanded by those bands stands him in good stead here. He contributes a spectral ambience to the spare, sad songs, creating a spooked Americana that compliments Nadler’s subject matter perfectly.
One of the real dangers of writing about music, particularly new music, is that it’s very easy to get too excited about new artists too soon. You could make a sizable box set out of the debut albums that garnered critical acclaim only to fade into obscurity a few short years later. In this hype-driven environment, it’s a rare occasion when an artist is allowed to develop their craft and deliver on the promise that many writers see and some mistake for immediate greatness.
Breakup albums aren’t typically joyful affairs. Add the always melancholy Marissa Nadler to the equation and you have a pity party waiting to happen. That’s not to undermine the sheer eerie beauty of these sad songs. Her singing is so honest, restrained and touching, it’s impossible to imagine she recorded them without shedding a few tears.
When Marissa Nadler emerged a decade ago, it seemed apparent that the bohemian freak-folk underground she toiled in was not her natural environment. At once austere and ornate, her ice-cold soprano voice and minor chords conveyed gothic dread, and the feeling that a wider audience was hers for the taking. While the Boston resident’s commercial breakthrough still awaits, Nadler’s captivating qualities circa 2004 hold true on ‘July’, her sixth album.
In a word: beautiful. From the offset, this is such a warm, wintry and special album. It sounds like happy emotional memories, or the soundtrack to some lovely romance. It's an album to listen to with a loved one, or even just marvel at alone. The songs are sparse, and they breathe all over the ….
Dark rooms on summer’s days can be strange places – where children go to bed, stung by the fact it’s still light out; where office workers find themselves naggingly sequestered from a short short-clad outside world; where we try and hide, unsuccessfully, from stupefying heat. I’m not sure that Marissa Nadler’s sixth album is about any of those things per se, but the ambiance is there, in the music, in the words, in that title, July and in the eerie black and white cover photo, in which la Nadler stands in a brick room, her image partly obliterated by the cold roar of sunlight through the window behind her. If you’ve ever heard more than a second of one of her songs you’ll be aware that Nadler doesn’t do sunny pop bangers any more than Bruno Mars does bleak dream folk numbers.
Marissa Nadler is, these days, something of an overlooked veteran. Her progress from 2004 debut Ballads Of Living And Dying to July, her sixth full-length album, has been a glacial glide through ethereal, spectre-like soundscapes illustrating the homeland of heartbreak – wide-open spaces, and candlelit reminiscences that are forever autumn. Following on from 2012’s The Sister mini-album, July carries on weaving a lush, primarily monochrome, palette.
Since her appropriately titled 2004 debut Ballads of Living and Dying, Marissa Nadler has demonstrated herself to be a keen lyricist with a knack for hauntingly gorgeous arrangements and a voice that can heal wounds or spin gold. She could be a Neko Case or even Joni Mitchell level of alternative country/folk presence. July feels like that hope coming to fruition.
Listening to Marissa Nadler has always been kind of like getting lost in a house of mirrors — it can be creepy or dreamlike, jarring or revelatory. She’s in the sweet spot between freak folk and dream pop, plucking her guitar strings and beckoning you to follow her siren-like voice into an underworld of sorrow and regret. Few artists are better for encouraging you to exorcise your own demons, or helping you feel less alone in the process.
On July, her debut for Sacred Bones, Marissa Nadler strips away the metaphorical language that has been a hallmark in her songwriting--even when it was self referential. She speaks in the first person charting the aftermath of a devastating romantic relationship. These songs are colored in deep, gauzy American Gothic in lyric, melody, and production -- the latter provided by Randall Dunn (Earth, Akron/Family, Wolves in the Throne Room).
The prolific Marissa Nadler doesn't run out of sparse instrumentation over which to drape her haunting voice. July is the latest in Nadler's one-album-or-EP-per-year release string. Her formula of minimal instrument involvement and maximum voice continues to deliver. The music, whether it's a barely plucked guitar or a dribble of keys fits into the spaces between Nadler's clear, emotive tones.
“Goodbye misery,” Marissa Nadler sang on “Mistress,” an ode to an always-receding lover, a two-timing fantasy she could never seem to leave behind. That was in 2009, the closing song of Little Hells, but since then, Nadler hasn’t done much to honor its vow to lead a more stable, sustainable, and ultimately satisfying life, at least judging both by the tenor of the albums since and by July, her sixth anthology to date and first for the Brooklyn-registered Sacred Bones label. Beginning with the lamentation, “If you ain’t made it now/ You’re never going to make it,” it finds the Bostonian all-but renouncing any plans for arrival or fulfillment, and instead drifting in whatever direction she can through ballads of comfortable gloom and non-committal reverie.
Marissa Nadler, July Marissa Nadler’s limnetic new album, July, is both eerie and soothing, a lullaby written to induce nightmares. Burrow deeper and the odd hallucinatory qualities reveal themselves; images blend, fade and reform with no real discernible pattern. This album is composed of memories, the kind that your mind tries to reshape over time to shield you from what really happened.
In the permafrost clutch of a relentless winter, it can be easy to forget how oppressive the heat of the summer can be. Marissa Nadler calls this album July, but you’d be forgiven for wrapping it around you like a cloak in January, abandoning the struggle to keep warm and diving headlong into the cold. At least you’d be making the choice. Nadler populates July with characters who understand that sort of small victory—they’re worn down, deeply wounded, but at least they know enough of themselves to lean into the darkness instead of cowering at it.
Darkness and gloom have become something of a common aesthetic pose these last few years, so it’s always refreshing to find an artist who wears the black naturally, and without pretence. Marissa Nadler is one of those artists. Hailing from suburban Massachusetts, she put out her first LP, Ballads Of Living And Dying, on Eclipse in 2004, a release that saw her lumped in with the freak folk/New Weird America movement.
Marissa Nadler’s soprano voice is like the smoothest elevator ride you’ll ever take. It rises slowly, leveling off for brief peaceful stops before resuming to reach its high – somewhere in the clouds. On July, her sixth album, the Boston singer-songwriter gets an almost-hallucinatory effect out of her singing, often multi-tracking the voice to create a ghostly pillowing effect.
Marissa Nadler — July (Sacred Bones)When you realize you’ve taken an artist’s music for granted, it’s never a good feeling. Marissa Nadler’s music first arose in a theoretically familiar place: think folk revival and you’re on the right track. At the time, you might have seen her name in trend pieces beside those of Espers members Greg Weeks and Meg Baird.And it made sense.
Much of what has been written about July so far would lead you to believe that this is a very dark album. You might decide that Marissa Nadler sounds like a witch crafting a spell in a bubbling cauldron of ghostly guitars. But July is closer to a lullaby. A slightly sweet, slightly melancholy lullaby.