Marissa Nadler is a Boston-based folk singer-songwriter known for a haunting and melancholy series of albums released since she attended and graduated from RISD in the early 2000’s. Following on big successes like Songs 3: Bird on the Water and a self-titled LP, her latest album, July– released on Sacred Bones Records this past February- continues her tradition of producing tightly woven compositions ruled over by her powerful and dynamic voice, always imbuing her stark lyrics- navigating themes like lost love, memories of simple things, dreams and nature- with a cathartic vitality that makes this otherwise depressive music a very pleasurable listen. She deftly accompanies herself on steel-string acoustic, shuffling back and forth between an intricate finger-style and more straight-forward strumming.
To record July, Nadler traveled to Seattle to work with metal producer Randall Dunn- who recorded and produced the Washington based black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room‘s latest album Celestite. It was a felicitous match, for the two seemingly disparate styles’ shared tendency toward thick soundscapes and somber atmospheres. Between the innumerable multi-tracked vocal harmonies (Nadler’s is the sole voice on the album) and spacious instrumental arrangements, he exerts a careful and tender influence over each and every little note and sound. A listen on nice headphones or surround sound really brings out the extent of his work’s sonic filigree.
As usual, Nadler is joined by a recurring cast of backing musicians. The second track, titled 1923, is introduced by Nadler and synth player Steven Moore (who also does piano for later tracks) laying down a slow harmony, and they’re soon joined by Phil Wandscher on electric and Eyving Kang on strings to complete one of the album’s nicest and most original instrumental passages. The fifth track, Dead City Emily, perhaps the most somber and desolate sounding of them all, is completed by the reverbing chime-like synth haunting the background. It’s immediately followed by another of the album’s high points: Was It a Dream, featuring an electric guitar solo by Wandscher that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, leading into a hypnotic and repetitive bridge that builds in intensity with each iteration.
Nothing on this album feels overdone. Nadler manages to shake up her writing style on each track without abandoning the stark tone and slow tempo that helps define her music. Lyrically she never seems overbearing- often remaining just vague enough to avoid being confessional- despite the evocative images that her words paint and the album’s overall emotional intensity. Instrumentally speaking, more traditional arrangements are placed alongside a fresh but understated use of synth melodies, basslines, and background ambiance, reminding the listener this isn’t your standard folk album. These sparse but tasteful instrumental garnishes are what really round out the album’s full bodied-atmosphere. All in all, Julyis a great listen, likely to find its way on to the best break-up playlists and into the bones of blue people everywhere.