Album review: Marissa Nadler – Strangers

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Maybe I am the only one who has found themselves regularly dipping into Marissa Nadler’s last few albums but not quite fully committing to any of them. This says far more about my tastes than Nadler’s abilities and artistry, of course – all of her previous albums have been superbly written and performed. But with Strangers, her seventh record, the decision to turn up the always-present cinematic element of her work and to now present previously softer angles as sometimes harder edges here has meant that this is her first album that I find myself wanting to fall into, again and again. I’m sure that I won’t be the only one that is supportive of Nadler’s decision to bolster her song-craft with more confident brushstrokes and although this may or may not have been her aim, it’s got to be a desirable side effect for the Boston-based singer songwriter.

Cats Eyes and Rachel Zeiffira, Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence and Honeymoon albums, and Julie Cruise and Angelo Badelemennti’s collaborations with David Lynch are obvious genre-reference points here, but Marissa Nadler is for the most part, and certainly in regards to her past work, more obscured than these artists. Her natural pull is towards folk music but which is laced with gothic tendencies and on Strangers she broadens these previous sonic choices and presents something that is more instant and muscular and, on occasion, pop. ‘Katie I Know’, for instance, a personal rumination on the fading out of a friendship, has a gentle but insistent hip-hop thrum that forms a support for strings and pastoral woodwinds which, combined, are reminiscent of the bittersweet Saint Etienne.

‘Skyscraper’ begins quietly with plucked acoustic guitar and some minor key and soft synth chords before it expands majestically into a soaring, orchestrated panoramic of shindering, metallic shades of mystery. Nadler’s stacked up vocal harmonies are possessed and exhilarated when she declares that ‘Hungry is the Ghost’ ‘inside of me – inside, inside, inside of me!’ This is new territory for the singer; before these expressions would have been implied but not conveyed with such emotional power, and its captivating. The title track with its easy slide guitar and its folk-cum-spooked country vibe is one of the tracks that allows you to peek backwards at Nadler’s previous work whilst also demonstrating her conversion to a sound that’s more lethally loaded.

Two of the sparest and simplest arrangements – which highlight both Nadler’s dreamy but lucidly decipherable vocals and also her recurring themes of voyeurism and (or in) small town neighbourhoods – come at the album’s end. ‘Shadow Show Diane’ tells the vivid tale of Nadler walking around her neighbourhood at night whilst peering into others living rooms and kitchens with her obsession peaking at the sighting of Diane and her uninhibited exhibitionism. The last track, ‘Dissolve’, features only an acoustic guitar and is as delicately beautiful and soulful as the very best tracks from Nadler’s discography, or of any artist. ‘Dissolve into the air, I am another body in this town, I don’t care about anybody except a few around – and you never bring me down,’ she sings as she confirms her happy, outsider status in this regional portrait. It’s one that hopefully will bring many more to her music.

With Strangers Marissa Nadler is finally allowing more of the spotlight to shine down on her and it’s long overdue.

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