Her most succinct and haunting record to date.
With her eighth album, For My Crimes, Marissa Nadler offers her most succinct and haunting record to date. An otherworldly hum has always shrouded her music, and this new release feels like the highest peak of her spine-chilling approach, but the album manages to balance this with some real emotional weight. The result is a pleasant folk album that continuously unravels its tortured innerworkings.
There’s a welcome brevity and simplicity to For My Crimes. Only one song pushes past four minutes, and the whole thing barely lasts more than half an hour. This gives the music a fleeting quality, especially when some tracks take on a deceptively simple verse-chorus-verse structure. “Lover Release Me” is a brief two-and-a-half minutes, but any extra padding or studio gimmickry would detract from the gorgeous melody at the heart of the song. In this light, the ending of “Blue Vapor” feels like a total departure. By simply adding distortion, a heavy baritone sax and some drums, it offers the most exhilarating moment on the whole album.
A big change in sound comes from the production. 2016’s Strangers was helmed by Randall Dunn, known for his production work with heavy-as-lead groups like Earth and Sunn O))). He imbued the music with an oppressive weight that gave some tracks a dirge-like feel. Here, Nadler co-produces with Justin Raisin and Lawrence Rothman, both of whom notably worked on Angel Olsen’s My Woman. The three trade in some of the Strangers’ doom-and-gloom for an airiness that brings out the wandering troubadour roots of the music. Nadler’s voice glistens atop the lush arrangements of fingerstyle guitar and breathy strings, like a modern update on a classic country sound.
The best thing about the record’s sonic style is its economy and taste. Sometimes, like on “All Out of Catastrophes,” the mix is blissfully sparse. There’s little more than a watery guitar lead and some gently strummed chords, and it places the lyrics front and center. One of the album’s most crushing moments occurs when she sings “I know I’m going to Hell.” It’s such a simple line, but one that reiterates the vagabond nature of Nadler’s character. The trope of the reckless cowboy is tied up in a history of masculine energy, so there’s a self-conscious rewriting of history here. The co-opting of this archetype creates a unique blend of cries for independence, revenge fantasies and personal reflection.
This emphasis on the Southern-ness of Nadler’s gothic folk gives an anachronistic feeling to the otherwise 21st-century-sheen of the production. On top of some vocal inflections, like how she pronounces “expected” as “’spected” on “Are You Really Gonna Move to the South?,” taking the narrative as a whole paints a picture of a seedy, remorseful outlaw. The title track, which opens the record, comes from the perspective of someone walking towards the electric chair, and what’s even eerier than this story is Nadler’s delivery. “Please don’t remember me / For my crimes,” she sings in a voice so flat that you wonder whether she has any real hope for salvation.
If most of the album finds Nadler’s cast of characters surrounded by betrayal, trickery and murder, there’s a glimmer of hope towards the close of For My Crimes. On the penultimate track, “Flamethrower,” Nadler sings a surprisingly optimistic line among a tale of burning everything in sight: “Something new is born/ Amid the wreckage and the rain.” While it doesn’t necessarily promise clear skies ahead, it at least concedes that there’s a catalyst for change—and potentially betterment—inherent in the trouble that laces every other song here.