Six albums in, Boston-born singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler continues to wallow and writhe in gauzy darkness. July, Nadler’s sixth album, is a gothic masterpiece, alternating between sparse and densely stringed arrangements, both formats placing her powerful voice at the forefront. Don’t let the album title fool you – Nadler is singing from a cold, dark place, and probably the only thing that keeps her heart from icing over is Nadler’s commitment to purging her soul in song.
July was recorded at Avast Studios by Randall Dunn, who is known for his work with Sunn O))) and Earth. While Nadler’s haunted Americana sound may seem far-removed from heavy metal, the mood here is somber and sinister, and Dunn succeeds in suffusing the album in a seriousness that hits hard and leaves a lasting, uneasy feeling long after the last strings have stopped reverberating.
The album’s first single, “Dead City Emily”, is a hauntingly moving track that starts with a gently-picked, country-esque guitar line and quickly reveals that Nadler has a bone to pick with life and love. As she sings, “I was coming apart those days”, she reveals her vulnerability. Many songs feature lines about drinking the days and nights away, and it’s clear that Nadler is battling her demons both by drowning them in clear liquids and a crystal-clear voice.
Nadler’s narrator is, even at her most heart-broken and heart-breaking, staggeringly self-assured and powerful. In “I’ve Got Your Name”, it’s impossible not to visualize Nadler en route from nowhere to nowhere new, in a scene straight out of a Wim Wenders film. She sings of applying make-up in the rear view mirror, and there’s a terrifying confidence at play as she prepares to meet a former flame. One has little doubt that the upper hand rests firmly with this driven woman.
If there is a new Goth movement to be found in music today, Nadler belongs at the head of the pack. Her lyrics, clear and powerful, transcend the trivialities of heartbreak to part the clouds to lift the listener to a higher plane. Marissa Nadler and her black heart are a beacon of light. Guide on, sister, guide on.