It’s hard to find Marissa Nadler’s style of folk music described without the word gothic also attached.
Dark, brooding, delicate, and lush, Nadler’s music can sound otherworldly, even as her piercingly beautiful vocals convey an emotional directness. On Strangers, Nadler’s seventh album and second for the more typically heavy and loud Sacred Bones Records, Nadler expands her sound in a more layered and textured direction.
“The record is very different for me,” Nadler says. “It’s the seventh official release, but the first time I really wrote with a band in mind. When I was younger, I would see the song as just the vocal and the acoustic guitar. Having a home-recording setup has improved my ability to see the songs not just as stories, but as sonic layers.”
The 2014 album July began expanding Nadler’s sound, but on Strangers, she embraces a soundscape that’s broken fully with the bleaker early records that featured just her on acoustic guitar and vocals. With greater variety and a rich elegance, Strangers is a record that can be described in many ways by the title of one of its songs, “All the Colors of the Dark.”
“I was really conscious of creating a multicolored palette this time around and avoiding the monochromatic world that I’d previously grown very accustomed to. I’m very proud of my back catalog, but I really pushed myself this time around to broaden the color spectrum,” Nadler says. “Each song on this record has a real individual identity. When I wrote the record, I had 50 or 60 songs written. If a song was retreading familiar territory for me, I put it in a different folder. I can write heartbreak songs with my eyes closed and I didn’t want to do another July.”
In lyrics too, Nadler looked outside herself, finding inspiration in friends, neighbors, or even strangers, creating songs from the experiences she observed.
“The characters are real people. They’re very personal songs. They’re less about love and desire and breakups and more about the state of the world,” she says. “It’s more surrealist. There are a lot of dream versus reality lyrics, a lot of stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and apocalyptic imagery peppered in.”
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The writing process for Nadler was a solitary one, holed up in what she calls her “little treehouse apartment” near Boston. On “Janie In Love” and “Katie I Know,” Nadler writes about friends, finding connection, and offering solace in the face of others’ loneliness and pain. In that sense, Strangers is a deeply empathetic record, one that opens the door to Nadler’s dark musical world to just a bit of sun.
Marissa Nadler is scheduled to perform Monday, August 1, at Valley Bar.