Marissa Nadler reflects on the nature of Strangers

StrangersThere are two kinds of strangers: the ones who arrive that way, and the ones whose shadows lengthen over the course of time. On the title track of Marissa Nadler's seventh album, we learn which of the two this record is primarily concerned with. "I am a stranger now," she sighs, and it's that temporal qualifier tacked on the end which pushes the album's themes beyond an implied ending, and towards the wreckage left in its wake. What follows, both lyrically and musically, is a hugely accomplished addition to her brand of saloon-at-the-end-of-the-world Americana, and a worthy follow-up to 2014's sumptuous July.

If Nadler's delivery has edged a little closer to Lana Del Rey's whiskey-slurred deadpan, it suits the dark subject matter. Though there are stretches of lucid indie-folk on Strangers, and even something approaching a trip-hop beat on early track "Katie I Know", the majority of the album is quiet, half-asleep, a laudanum-soaked dream. It's also distinctly post-apocalyptic. "Skyscraper" is a characteristically moody, minor chord meditation on a city landscape that seems to be out of service, while standout "All the Colours of the Dark" takes the idea to its literal, beautiful conclusion: "This is not your world anymore." The characters here stalk realms that no longer belong to them, whether as outsiders or ghosts. In the end, it appears, they amount to the same thing.

Bella Union are seeing something of a purple patch in their roster, with both Father John Misty and Beach House providing them with critical (and a degree of commercial) success last year. At times here, there are moments that seem to capture the former's lyrical wit and the latter's viscous melancholy at the same time, such as the gloriously swollen, fuzzy chorus of "Janie in Love". If the noise also brings the temperature up a few notches, it's a temporary reprieve before "Waking" slinks back to a more sedate operating level, stretching the dreamlike quality of Nadler's songwriting into an even softer form. Still, it's the more dramatic imagery that lingers long after it slides from view, those of buildings and romances collapsing alike, only relics and epitaphs left to mark that they were ever there at all.

Poetically, for Nadler, it's the same processes by which strangers are made: not through demolition or rupture, but erosion over time. "God knows what brought us together," she ponders as the album closes on "Dissolve", and if the listener so chooses, the record begins again; once more, the narrator of "Divers of the Dust" asks, "How did we end up here? And how do we meet?" There is no resolution to be found on Strangers, beyond the comfort of familiar territory. But it's enough.

Release: 20th May 2016, Bella Union


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