Strangers, Marissa Nadler’s second record for Brooklyn-based Scared Bones and seventh overall, mixes elements both familiar and unfamiliar to create an uneven, but often rewarding listen. As with the best of her prior work, the songs that hit still retain the ability to steal your breath. And while many of the sounds and textures have been used to varying degrees in her earlier records, the attempts to create new instrumental atmospheres, such as more keyboards and percussion, are refreshing, if nothing else.

Marissa Nadler - Strangers Album Review

While the skeleton of Nadler’s work has always been her particular brand of fingerpicked acoustic guitar coupled with her ethereal voice, early on, she added other elements, whether it be Greg Weeks’s electric guitar on Songs III or the electronic percussion that appeared on Little Hells. Strangers continues this, but with more emphasis on atmospheric elements—stray string swells, droning organ progressions, and the like. Beyond the aesthetics, the songs tend to meander along with less form than previous outings.

Opener “Divers of the Dust” exemplifies some of the pitfalls. Consisting largely of piano and vocals, and accompanied only by some reverb-heavy percussion at points, it churns forward with only the most minimal transitions. While Nadler’ voice is gorgeous as always, the song opens the record on a flat note. More successful in this vein is “Hungry is the Ghost,” which builds on a light chugging guitar rhythm, slowly adding layers of atmosphere until it feels as though it should burst, only to resolve into a martial drumroll as reverb drenched electric guitar unwinds around it.

 

 

Indeed, Strangers features electric guitar more prominently than past releases. The title track juxtaposes a distorted lead with a pedal steel to great effect. Standout “Janie in Love” is the best example that brings all these elements to bear on Nadler’s music. The verses are slight, starting initially with accordion and acoustic guitar, but slowly build to contrast with a refrain punctuated with crashing distorted chords. As the record reaches towards the home stretch, it returns to more familiar territory with the more traditional folky “Waking” or album closer “Dissolve.”

The songs are, themselves, lovely as always and the record is otherwise well executed. Strangers, in the end, is a nice, more eclectic, addition to Nadler’s growing body of work.

 

Marissa Nadler – “Janie In Love” Music Video

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