Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Twelve years and seven albums into her career, Marissa Nadler fans know what to expect; plenty of haunting, ghostly vocals over calm, often spare music sometimes unsettling in its introspective eeriness. Just a glance at the stark black-and-white cover photo and some song names on her seventh release shows little has changed in her somewhat insular approach. Titles such as “Shadow Show Diane,” “Nothing Feels the Same,” “All the Colors of the Dark,” Hungry is the Ghost” and the title track leave no doubt that Nadler hasn’t swapped her patented melancholy ways for hip-shaking party-ready pop.
On the contrary, for this song cycle of sorts about lovers/strangers in an apocalyptic future, Nadler and producer Randall Dunn craft 11 dark pieces that take Nadler’s drifting soprano and disquieting concepts (generally about loneliness and disconnecting with either another person or the world), overlaying subtle but swelling strings, percussion, synthesizers and the least countrified pedal steel you’ll likely ever hear.
Lyrics like “looking through the windows/ to other people’s rooms,” “so many fair-weather friends/ problem is when the weather ends,” and “you’re a natural disaster/ and I am watching you blow up everything” are just a few examples of the tension and unrest at the heart of these plaintive, usually disconcerting scenarios. Even when the closing “Dissolve” seems to imply the protagonist has found her soulmate in a loveless world, you get the feeling that no one in Nadler’s universe will live happily ever after.
Despite the ominous lyrical content, Nadler creates music with warmth, grace and genuine humility. Her sympathetic, occasionally soaring, bittersweet voice conveys these concepts with detached beauty, the songs melt out of the speakers and the overall effect is hypnotic in all the right ways. Existing followers will easily gravitate to another wonderfully crafted Nadler set while newcomers can start here and work their way backwards into music the singer-songwriter doesn’t just want you to listen to, but experience.