Release Date: May 20, 2016
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Strangers is Marissa Nadler's seventh full-length album in the span of 12 years. For an artist that, at basics, is just singing with a guitar, it is surprising how she manages to create something completely new each time, and with such prolificity. Each time she brings out a new album, it's like her sound is blooming once more in haunting and darkly beautiful colours, and each time it seems she has somehow grown grander and more striking.
Over the past 12 years, Marissa Nadler has quietly released a remarkably solid, consistent and terrific string of albums that should place her alongside dark folk peers like Father John Misty, Joanna Newsom and Sharon Van Etten. After wading into the murky waters of electronic and goth for her past few releases, Strangers finds Nadler focusing more on core songwriting elements, using her music's sonic textures more for mood. Teaming up again with producer and collaborator Randall Dunn (Boris, Sunn O))), Six Organs of Admittance), the Boston musician crafts 11 lush and affecting compositions here, as floating guitar, minor key piano and stirring stings work off of Nadler's sweeping, haunted melodies.
Midway through Marissa Nadler’s exquisite seventh album Strangers, she pens an ode to “All the Colors of the Dark.” Gently singing over hypnotic keyboards and swelling strings, the Boston-based singer-songwriter condenses a lifetime of heartbreak and sacrifice into her poetic lyrics, noting how the small surrenders gradually leave their mark and change a person, making them unrecognizable. “This is not your world anymore,” she proclaims, as much to herself as to the object of the song. Its title is indicative of the content throughout Nadler’s latest LP, rich with subtext that explores the nuances in her meditative, somber approach to folk tunes.
On 2014’s July cult folkie Marissa Nadler made the rather unexpected move of working with Randall Dunn, a producer best known previously for his work at the noisier, doomy end of the musical spectrum with bands like Earth and Sunn O))). It turned out to be a fitting pairing; Randall bringing an atmospheric gloominess to her languid, gothic lullabies. Strangers sees the partnership continue, this time with a little more embellishment than its austere predecessor.
For more than 10 years, there’s been an emphasis on the darkness of Marissa Nadler’s music. Hearing her described as gothy or seeing her billed next to metal and rock acts (even this year she toured with Black Mountain) didn’t really turn heads, as if she were a kindred spirit to Chelsea Wolfe. But musically, this didn’t really pass the ear test, at least not since she moved away from the solo, finger-picked songs of mourning that characterized her first three albums and 2012 EP The Sister.
No one is saying that Marissa Nadler doesn’t just walk around like anybody else, but the Boston singer and songwriter gives the distinct impression in her music that she floats, ghostly and all-knowing, just above the ground. It’s a sensibility she’s honed over the half a dozen albums that have led to her latest LP. Like its predecessors, Strangers comprises songs with thoughtful, sometimes lacerating lyrics.
Marissa Nadler doesn't seem like she's from here. She seems like a transitional spirit from another era—some dark and medieval place, a real-life Melisandre with an angelic tenor. Her music, a regal gothic folk, is equally soothing and haunting, and like singer-songwriters Angel Olsen and Laura Gibson, Nadler doesn’t need much behind her sonically to make an impact.
Strangers, Marissa Nadler's seventh album, is another subtle yet significant evolution in her sound. It began in earnest on 2014's July, her debut for Sacred Bones with intuitive producer/engineer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth). The songs on July offered a harrowing first-person chronicle of a failed romantic relationship. They were so poignant and confessional -- even by Nadler's own standards -- they carried the form seemingly as far as it would go.
It’s amazing that it’s taken as long as two albums on Bella Union to do it, but Marissa Nadler has finally gone and made a dreampop record. This is mostly a good thing. She made some fine acoustic folk albums back in the day, and her darkly languorous voice will always be the main, defining instrument on her records. But as a rule the fuller the music the more atmospheric her songs have proven, and her tones are clearly perfectly suited to the thick, hazy musical waters plied by Beach House et al.
If you’ve never heard a Marissa Nadler album before, this forthcoming paragraph is all you need to know. She has a simultaneously strong and reserved voice that lends itself to descriptions such as “ghostly”, “atmospheric”, “wintry”, or “uses her voice like an instrument”. Her songs are musically sparse, and while often the first thing I think of is Grouper in comparison, Marissa Nadler’s songs are much more potent; patently bleaker (2014’s July opened with the charming “If you ain’t made it now, you’re never going to make it”); downright apocalyptic.
As intoxicating as Marissa Nadler's albums has proven to be for those in the know, it's a complete mystery why such an acclaimed catalog remains largely unacknowledged. From her haunting early work to the intensely personal July (2014), Nadler crafts a rare gravity with each release. It's a shame the mainstream eludes her. .
The gentle piano chords that open Divers Of The Dust, the song that opens Strangers, belie what follows in the album. When Marissa Nadler’s keening voice enters, occasionally laced with vibrato, it brings us closer to the dark undercurrents that resonate in the record, but nonetheless this track appears to be a means of gently introducing the listener to the album. The music takes a more sinister turn in Skyscraper, with its minor key arpeggios and the pulses of bass that shoot through the song.
Don’t look now. There’s a ghost there. There too. I know. They’re everywhere, but — what? Who you gonna call? Nah, nah, don’t. Don’t get rid of them. We put them there. They’re here for us. And this isn’t a ghost review — it’s a review with ghosts in it. We struggle to boil our ….
Seven albums in, Boston native Marissa Nadler reunites with producer Randall Dunn, who recorded 2014's July, and continues in much the same vein. That clean mezzo-soprano (and it is, as ever, quite beautiful) is framed by a backing austere but full; processed guitars amidst an ocean of reverb. Atmosphere is everything in Nadler's oeuvre. The dynamics of her songs and their careful arrangements are sketched with subtlety: there are few 'big' moments.
It’s been ten years since I first encountered Marissa Nadler and her work at the sixth Terrastock Festival in the US, and to see her released efforts and reputation grow over that time has been duly rewarding. I’ll duly declare other interest upfront: five years ago she contributed to an online charity album I helped put together in the memory of a mutual friend who passed too young. Her track ‘The Breaking’ was a beautiful, sad, highlight of the whole project, her voice capturing regret, quiet mourning and more just as much as her acoustic guitar did.
Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Sacred Bones)Photo by Ebru YildizForget the idea that Marissa Nadler’s doing that Marissa Nadler thing on her seventh album Strangers. Instead, she’s ending the world. At least that’s how the album opens, with “Divers in the Dust.“ Its piano sounds like exit music for a thoughtful apocalypse. Nadler sings about things coming undone, and whether that means landscapes or something more internal, the effect is the same.The world might be ending, but there’s no sense of denouement in Nadler’s artistry.
Commercial success in music is often a waiting game, sometimes played those with the hope that the big pay cheque is just around the corner. On the other hand, there are artists like Marissa Nadler, who are driven by artistic excellence and a desire to tell a story. On her previous album, 2014s July she found the perfect home in Bella Union, a label with a love of songwriting and creativity which is currently having one of those runs – like mid-80s 4AD and Factory and early 90s Creation – where seemingly everyone on the roster is hitting a creative peak.