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Album review: Marissa Nadler “July” (Folk Radio UK)

January 27, 2014

Marissa Nadler - JulyFollowing on from her self-titled 2011 LP and its companion piece The Sister (2012), July is Marissa Nadler’s sixth full-length record in a decade, yet despite this prolific output, she sounds as engaged with her music as ever. Recorded at Seattle’s Avast Studio under the auspices of producer Randall Dunn – perhaps better known for his work with Earth, Sunn O))) and Wolves in the Throne Room – the result is a set which creates a spellbinding audio landscape that will keep you enthralled from start to finish.

The lyrical theme of the album seems to be one of soul-searching melancholy and this is clear from the outset: opening track Drive, with its bittersweet multitracked harmonies and church organ, contains one of the most haunting refrains I’ve heard in a long time: “Nothing like the way it feels to drive / Still remember all the words / To every song you ever heard”. The pedal steel calls to mind some distant country music radio show heard over the airwaves on a car radio late at night on a long distance road trip.

Thunderous bass drops at the heart of 1923 are a steady pulse over which Eyvind Kang’s strings and Phil Wandscher’s treated guitar shimmer and shine above Marissa’s trademark fingerstyle playing and distant harmonies mourning an absent loved one. Marissa’s cascading vocals and a weeping pedal steel guitar lead the country-tinged third track Firecrackers, an elegy to summers and Independence Day celebrations past, while We Are Coming Back is an audio still-life which evokes a time and a place somewhere out on the edge of a dream.

By contrast, there’s a sense of urgency about Marissa’s playing in Dead City Emily (the first single from the album), highlighted by the quiet electronic washes of Steve Moore’s synths which emerge and disappear throughout. The simple, strummed chords and multitracked harmonies of Was It A Dream provide a gauzy backdrop for the broken-hearted lead guitar; combined with a melody which insinuates its way into your head, it’s easy to see why this was chosen as the second (and current) single.

Underpinned by slow piano chords, I’ve Got Your Name returns to the more measured (but no less introspective) pace which characterises July; it offers a brief interlude before the remorseless – and remorseful – Desire, an insistent guitar-driven song with pale washes of keyboards and guitars.

Anyone Else modulates between major and minor chords, creating an alternating heartbeat of light and dark as Marissa’s harmonies soar, while the lyrics of the introspective Holiday In offer an intriguing insight into the bleaker realities of touring before the simple arrangement of Nothing In My Heart brings the album to a close with a definite if subdued full-stop.

July is not an easy record by any stretch of the imagination but it’s to Marissa Nadler’s credit that repeated listens gradually uncover and illuminate an emotional depth and maturity befitting its spacious, dreamy musical style.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (27 January 2014)

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