For more than 12 years, Marissa Nadler has perfected her own take on the exquisitely sculpted gothic American songform. On her seventh full-length, Strangers, she has shed any self-imposed restrictions her earlier albums adhered to, stepped through a looking glass, and created a truly monumental work.
In the two years since 2014’s elegiac, autobiographical July, Nadler has reconciled the heartbreak so often a catalyst for her songwriting. Turning her writing to more universal themes, Nadler dives deep into a surreal, apocalyptic dreamscape. Her lyrics touch upon the loneliness and despair of the characters that inhabit them. These muses are primal, fractured, disillusioned, delicate, and alone. They are the unified voice of this record, the titular “strangers.”
This sense of “end times” is exemplified by the sparse, piano-driven opener “Divers of the Dust.” Written utilizing a Dadaist cut-up technique (popularized by David Bowie and William S. Burroughs), Nadler layers hypnagogic imagery of waves pulling cities into the ocean over a very personal tale of longing.
Once again partnered with July producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Black Mountain) Nadler has created a new album equal in sonic quality to the apocalyptic lyrical tone that covers its 44 minutes. In places her voice and guitar play off subsonic synths, while elsewhere, as in “Katie I Know,” a pulsing drumbeat launches the song off into an intense, confrontational place. “Janie in Love” is another full-band highlight, marrying the album’s most allegorically primal lyrics to the melodic hooks that makes Nadler one of the best songwriters working today.