A Benefit for the Louisville Outskirts Festival with Marissa Nadler

Marissa Nadler

Marissa Nadler wastes no time in cutting close to the bone on "July," her latest album and first for her new labels, Sacred Bones (US) and Bella Union (Europe).

"Drive" opens the record with one of her most devastating lines, addressing a quandary we have all grappled with at some point: "If you ain't made it now/ You're never gonna make it."

There is catharsis in the chorus: "Nothin' like the way it feels/ To drive," she sings amid a choir of celestial harmonies, elongating that last word as if it were a car bounding down a long stretch of lost highway. It's Nadler at her most elemental: warm but spectral, vulnerable but resilient.

Nadler lays the listener – and herself – on the line with "July," her sixth full-length album in nearly a decade. Set for release on Feb. XX, it floats freely in the pop cosmos somewhere between gauzy shoegaze, unvarnished folk, and even a hint of metal's doom-and-gloom spirit.

On "Firecrackers," an acoustic strum frames a cascading melody that is simply gorgeous until you realize just how much it belies the brutality of what Nadler has to say. "Firecrackers/ Burned into heaven on the floor/ My attacker/ It's me, it's me, it's me you're looking for."

Then she slyly leavens the mood: "July Fourth of last year/ We spilled all the blood/ How'd you spend your summer days?" Nadler asks with a straight face, acknowledging you could either laugh or cry at such a sentiment.

This is the world of Nadler's "July," where you're likely to find the Boston-based singer and songwriter "holed up at the Holiday Inn" watching crime TV or leaving her instruments to freeze in the car. These settings, details, and themes are brand-new to Nadler's canon, and they paint a far more realistic version of her life than her previous records. The results are astonishing and occasionally reminiscent of David Lynch (who is, appropriately enough, among her label mates on Sacred Bones). As Pitchfork once wrote, her songs are "as gorgeous as they are elliptical and intriguing."

Recorded at Seattle's Avast Studio, the album pairs Nadler for the first time with producer Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), Wolves in the Throne Room). Dunn matches Nadler's darkness by creating a multi-colored sonic palette that infuses new dimensions into her songs. Eyvand Kang's strings, Steve Moore's synths, and Phil Wandscher's guitar lines escalate the whole affair to a panoramic level of beautiful, eerie wonder.

Her voice, too, is something to behold here, at once clarion but heavy with the kind of tear-stained emotion you hear on scratchy old country records by Tammy Wynette and Sammi Smith. Long gone are the days when Nadler summoned images of 1960s folk singers who got lost in the woods. She is a cosmic force on "July," shooting these songs to euphoric highs and heartbreaking lows.

Celebrated for her crystalline soprano, she explores her lower register to profound effect throughout "July," turning "1923" into a cinematic ode to forlorn love. Strings cradle Nadler's vocals, cresting in a climax that is somehow vast yet still intimate. If you were to hear only one song from "July" – which would be a shame, by the way – let it be "1923." It is Nadler in miniature: haunted, elegiac, and epic.

"July" is the kind of release that reminds you why NPR counts Nadler's songwriting as so "revered among an assortment of tastemakers." This is a singular achievement for the artist, a record she couldn't have made earlier in her career because, as every songwriter knows, she didn't just write these songs: She lived them.

Dane Waters

DANE WATERS is one of Louisville's brightest musical talents. As a member of SAPAT and SOFTCHEQUE, she displays an impeccable melodic sensibility, and has a voice so wonderfully haunting, it sends chills down your spine.

TALsounds

TALsounds is Canada-born, Chicago-based experimental musician Natalie Chami. In her solo performances, vocal loops and drifting tones of analog synths swell and accumulate across long sessions of drone. As part of duo l'eternebre, or in collaboration with Chicago experimentalist Passerby, TAL's sounds collude with glacial electronics and processed strings. In trio Good Willsmith, TAL's arsenal of synths, oscillators and electronics collides with massive bass and looped guitar noise. When she’s not droning, TAL teaches music at Chicago High School for the Arts and in her private studio.

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