Working with producer Randall Dunn for her seventh album, goth-folk master Marissa Nadler made small but impactful changes to her sound, and emerged from the studio with a collection of her finest work to date. Dunn’s encompassing production fused perfectly with Nadler’s atmospherically heavy style on Strangers, something that proved especially important this time around, as the singer-songwriter tweaked her sound in such a way that seemed to broaden its scope without being a potentially alienating turn into uncharted territories.
Where previously Nadler’s recordings had been strikingly stripped-back, her shyness understandably shining through on such vulnerable recordings, Strangers is edgier, bolder even, with Nadler confidently bolstering her sound through expressive strings, measured percussion and layered guitars. This gives the acoustic songs (‘Strangers’, ‘Waking’, ‘Dissolve’) a more distinct aura, but even these tracks are weightier here – less gentle than before, if no less bleak. Elsewhere, the subtle innovations help Nadler’s stellar songwriting to truly shine, with songs that build slowly and expertly, governed by blossoming choruses that sound vaster than ever.
The Washington, D.C. artist’s isolated performances had, in previous years, been an asset, adding a touch of relatable fragility to the music of a performer whose voice sounds so otherworldly. But progress is no bad thing. Here, the vulnerability is accompanied by an elegantly understated fierceness that allows her songs to feel expansive yet robust without being so upfront as to abandon what makes her music so distinct. The instrumental changes were seemingly a bold choice, but they don’t impede on Nadler’s usual style or do much to alter the vibe of past recordings, instead they add a dynamism that helps her portray her message more vividly. It’s a feature that has carried over onto subsequent albums, and thanks to steps taken on Strangers, Nadler’s work is now easier to connect to than ever before. Just as well, because in Marissa Nadler we have an artist who recognises the mundanity of life, but instead of wallowing within it, she finds nuggets of poetry in the humdrum of everyday existence, turning doom and gloom into something ethereal.
Words: George Parr