PICK OF THE WEEK: Nadler shifts her focus to other characters on darkly excellent ‘Strangers’

Nadler Ebru Yildiz

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Being that we congregate here because of metal and extreme music, most of us are bound to be attracted to dark, damaged characters. While it once was unheard of to express vulnerability and hurt, those have become common elements that have helped turn a once solely barbaric terrain into one that has made some room for compassion.

These qualities also have pushed our tastes and interests beyond just heavy metal and into other areas that share some of the same qualities. One artist who has always been on the perimeter philosophically is Marissa Nadler, whose dark folk has attracted a nice portion of the more open-minded metal audience. Yes, she collaborated with Xasthur in the past, but that’s not her only in. Her music often is ghostly, haunting, and more painful than a spike from some dude’s wristband to the eye, and it sure can make you cry harder. Nadler’s music might be a far from metal as one can get sonically, but thematically, she’s right there in the middle of the nightmare. Her new record “Strangers” is her seventh full-length overall, and it is arguably her best. It also provides a bit of a change for her as the music doesn’t focus quite as much on her own life but on characters that comprise these tales.

Nadler coverThe last couple years since Nadler’s excellent last record “July,” lots of things have changed in her life. She tackled some of her personal demons and got married to a longtime love who had been the subject of some of her most heartbreaking material in the past (I highly recommend the feature story Spin just did on her, which is excellent). Now on “Strangers,” it seems like the title of the record is on purpose, as she examines other people and other situations not necessarily her own, and she does an amazing job conveying their emotions. Musically, she sounds as free and inspired as ever before, and each song on this album stands alone, and has its own unique DNA. She again worked with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn 0))), Wolves in the Throne Room, Earth, Black Mountain), who really understands her sound and helps her make an ideal sounding record.

“Divers of the Dust” opens the record amid echoing piano and Nadler’s voice reverberating, pouring emotion into the song and causing it to swell at each end. “You were the bullet in my gun, I was your man,” she calls, practically driving a dagger through your chest. “Katie I Know” has a nice, warm ’70s feel, folk-led with soft flutes, but also some psyche-washed keys that disorient. “I can bury this heart of mine,” she levels, as haunting melodies, thick strings, and quivering sensations hammer this song home. The chorus is one that will etch itself in your head and never leave. Not that you’ll want it to exit. “Skyscraper” is acoustically picked, with Nadler delivering breathier vocals, often harmonizing with herself, and some electric charges jab the edges later, with the song bleeding away. “Hungry Is the Ghost” is like a wintry haze, with layered strings drizzled, guitars weeping, and a country vibe to it. Psychedelics swim, as Nadler calls, “Hungry is the ghost inside of me,” as the song fades into the mist. “All the Colors of the Dark” is a great song, one of the best in Nadler’s catalog, and it starts so disarmingly. It feels like a lullaby at first, with Nadler leveling, “This is not your world anymore.” But just when you think it’s going to stay where it’s at, the gorgeous chorus arrives, simply comprised of Nadler calling back the title, but it is arresting. Just a fantastic song.

The title track then arrives, a song with guitars floating, thick pedal steel adding even more feelings, and the music echoing and dripping all over Nadler’s words. “Janie in Love” is another interesting character study, with Nadler poking, “You’re a natural disaster,” amid sounds buzzing and noire-rich guitars adding a nice sepia shade. The chorus bursts with life, with Nadler again repeating the title, and it all ends in a mind-glazing sheen that lulls you into serenity. “Waking” seems like what its title indicates, the first moments when returning to consciousness, as her guitar loops and she sings in such a manner that she’s practically inviting you back to dream again. “Shadow Show Diane” has blusier guitar licks, with Nadler playing storyteller, her character keeping secrets about a mysterious figure who has become a major part of the person’s nights. It’s tough to tell if that’s out of loneliness, dissatisfaction, or excitement. Maybe a combo of all three. It’s understated in spots, which gives it that much more power as it moves along. “Nothing Feels the Same” is smeared with sadness, with organs swelling, her voice pushing along softly, and allowing the chorus to rise up and flood into the scene. Closer “Dissolve” arrives softly, with acoustics plucked, and Nadler lamenting, “I am another body in this town.” But it’s not all downhill, as she finds hope as the song moves along, and as the track tips toward hearty folk territory, she softly admits, “You never bring me down,” which is something I always feel about her and her music.

It’s no secret Nadler is a major favorite of ours at this site, and “Strangers” only swells that adulation to even greater heights. Nadler has been through her own battles, emerged from the other side, and appears to be a stronger musician and person as a result. This record might not be heavy sonically, but it will batter your heart and soul.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.marissanadler.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/products/sbr148-marissa-nadler-strangers

For more on the label, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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