CROSSING OVER VOL. 2: Nadler’s ‘July’ full of raw honesty; Black Mare, Olsen spark fires

Marissa Nadler
Crossing Over is our monthly look at music that isn’t metal but might appeal to our readership, who we have learned have pretty diverse tastes. Just like ours. We’re crossing over into other forms of music.

You don’t have to be metal to be dark, intense, and imposing. Words matter, as does the way artists approach their music, and when those things work together, they can create chills in a way that few others can.

Marissa Nadler always has had the gift to enrapture with her music. At the beginning of her career, she often sounded like a ghost lost in the woods, trying to find meaning of existence and where she belongs, and over time, she has morphed to let us know about herself as she started to take a more human form. From the very start of her career, it was clear she was a special artist whose growth would be something to watch very closely, and she has rewarded that attention over the years with records that grow in scope and body, demonstrating just how strong a musician and storyteller she is. In fact, while her music can sound utterly beautiful much of the time, there often is darkness lurking below that can trip you up and cause you to gasp on shadows. So yes, metal she is not, but incredibly moving and very dark she often is.

Nadler coverYet, Nadler has some ties to the metal scene. She contributed vocals to Xasthur’s swansong album, 2010’s “Portal of Sorrow,” and on her incredible new record “July,” she recorded with doom lord Randall Dunn, who is responsible for working with bands such as Sunn 0))) and Wolves in the Throne Room, whose heaviness can rip worlds apart, and Earth, whose later run of music is actually more in line with Nadler’s art. But working with Dunn doesn’t mean Nadler now will be headlining Maryland Deathfest or anything, but he does bring out some dronier, murkier moments from Nadler’s sixth album, one of the most honest, raw, painful records of her career. There are moments of pure hurt, disillusionment, pain, and sadness, and if you put yourself in Nadler’s shoes, you might find your heart aching along with hers.

This great record opens with “Drive,” a haunting track that reminds a bit of Mazzy Star, with raw acoustic guitars, some syrupy slide toward the end of the song, and Nadler noting, “You’re never coming back.” Then it’s into “1923,” a track that’s heavy on noir, with quietly plucked guitars and strings, with Nadler reaching across time with, “I called you from another century to see if the world has been kind and sweet.” There’s both a feeling of grief and hope in those words, as she tries to find a glimmer of light. “Firecrackers” is just a crusher, a song that has Nadler thinking back to an emotionally scarring time when she recalls, “July 4th of last year, we spilled all the blood.” It’s only violent from a personal standpoint, not a physical one, and this tender cut can hit home with anyone who has been in a fragile situation where relationships fall to ashes. “We Are Coming Back” is quiet and dark, letting you have a little bit of a comedown from the previous track, and it leads into “Dead City Emily.” This song opens mildly, with her noting, “Oh, I saw the light today,” and as the song grows, more layers of sound settle in, and the final moments even take off from this Earth and into the cosmos, a place Nadler hasn’t visited often before.

“Was It a Dream” is another highlight track, opening with strummed acoustics before electric guitars ramble in, setting up Southern rock-style burning that suits this song really well. The cut is steely and effective, and as usual, Nadler’s voice sounds otherworldly. “I’ve Got Your Number” brings back more pain to the forefront, with echoey, layered sounds, Nadler harmonizing with herself, and her driving and feeling her heart smash as she drives down snowy roads in the dark winter. “Desire” also could leave you scarred, as Nadler kicks into dusty folk melodies that feel like they’re as world weary as she is in the song, and she deals with realizing the desire she thought another felt for her was not genuine. “I had it all wrong,” she realizes, dripping her blood all over this thing for the world to see. “Anyone Else” sounds a little more defiant than the rest, especially when Nadler notes, “I hardly think about you anymore,” as she continue to weave her darkness, eventually poking, “What a lie you are living out,” as she lets some noisy drone take the song to its finish. “Holiday in” also sounds like she’s smarting from pain, singing about how she longs to lie in a hotel watching watching crime shows, and eventually she lays it out straight for her subject by observing, “Your fantasies go on forever,” seemingly indicating she’s not willing to go along with someone else’s make-believe any longer. Closer “Nothing In My Heart” is the perfect ending, with Nadler revealing she doesn’t have love inside of her for someone that she thought she did, and she delivers the crushing message with lush vocals and music that’s far more delicate than what she’s saying here. It’s one of those disarming moments where Nadler is so effective, seemingly painting you a lovely, overcast picture when she’s really unloading her pain and disappointment in a way that could hit you from behind if you’re not paying full attention.

Nadler continues to get better as she goes on, and “July” is evidence of that. It’s very much a Nadler record, yet it sounds like nothing else in her catalog. That’s because she has such a unique, alluring voice and a strong way of getting her musical and lyrical messages across that you cannot help but know it’s her. Yet she always finds a way to slightly reinvent herself so every record stands on its own. “July” is her finest work to date, a record that stands above a rock-solid catalog that doesn’t have a weak spot.

For more on Nadler, go here:

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Other releases in February we really loved:

Black Mare coverBLACK MARE, “Field of the Host” (Human Jigsaw) — The most metal we’re going to get with this month’s Crossing Over is Black Mare, the new solo project from Sera Timms, bassist/vocalist for bands such as Ides of Gemini and the sadly defunct Black Math Horseman (whose only record “Wyllt” was a damn-near spiritual experience). Black Mare’s music delves in ambient drone, doom, post-punk, and other sounds, with Simms’ voice floating in the ether at times, taking more command at others. In fact, if you’re a fan of Simms’ voice, this is a must-buy, because it feels like she transcends the human plane more often than not on these songs, peaking on tracks such as the shadow-filled “Tearer,” that pushes into deathrock territory; nightmarish, entrancing “Saturn’s Grave”; and the sleep-inducing, disarming “ISA” that is ghostly but emotional. It’s great to have a new project from Simms, who I could hear sing forever.

To buy the album, go here:

Olsen coverANGEL OLSEN, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” (Jagjaguwar) — Olsen has a voice that, if you hear it one time, you never will forget it. She has the power to silence a room with her singing, which I saw her do here late last year when she played the Andy Warhol Museum, where she even played a few of the songs we’d here on her incredible second full-length record “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” Not since Neko Case came along has an artist packed this much emotional power and musical weight into her art, and every song on this great record could stop you dead in your tracks, from the quiet opener “Unfucktheworld,” where she quiety admits, “I have to save my life”; to “Forgiven/Forgotten,” the first of a few tracks that rock harder than usual; the excellent 7-minute “White Fire”; and heart-stopping “Stars,” where she tries to “scream it all back to nothingness.” This is an early album-of-the-year candidate from an artist whose brilliance is only now coming to be recognized. She’s going to be huge.

To buy the album, go here:

Phantogram coverPHANTOGRAM, “Voices” (Republic/Universal) — I just now realized we’re touching on almost all female artists in this installment, and that’s totally by accident. Anyway, Phantogram’s jump to the majors made a lot of sense. The duo of singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist/singer Josh Carter sound way more than prepared for the larger audience they are likely to meet with their great second record “Voices.” It has big-time pop sensibilities that easily should make a major impact at mainstream radio but enough quirks to keep their indie following more than satisfied. Seriously, listen to the song “Fall in Love.” It’s playing all over satellite radio now, and I’ve spun it a million times. It should be a huge smash for them. Such a great mix of zappy pop, infectious hooks, and seduction. That’s just one track in a collection of awesome electro-powered crushers that should make Phantogram a very deserved huge band.

To buy the album, go here: