Not Just A Dream
Marissa Nadler’s new album July has a lot in common with her 2012 release, The Sister. Both albums are quietly evocative, featuring little more than vocals set to gentle fingerpicking guitar. Both are slow-burning and both have the quality of doing a lot with a little. But in her latest record, Nadler’s style has grown sharper. Each song is beautifully dreamy, perfectly measured. The result is not an album through which one skips. Instead, you’ll find yourself drifting through its river-like calm toward emotional rapids.
July is relentlessly minimalistic, often featuring Nadler’s guitar as the lead instrument. But she uses a mix of vocals, ambient bass and string accompaniment to gradually build depth. She often grows more polyphonic and intense as she goes. The effect is like listening to a train approaching from a distance until it’s roaring past you, then hearing it fade away into the horizon. But not every track follows this formula, which saves the listener from even noticing that it is a formula. “Was It A Dream,” for instance, features more percussion and electric guitar than the other tracks, which is refreshing. Likewise, “I’ve Got Your Name,” a short, ambient piano piece, is a mental breather from Nadler’s guitar work.
With singer/songwriters like Nadler (you know, those people who used to sit on a chair with a guitar and sing their own songs?), so much relies upon the voice. When it’s that stripped down, there’s not much else to which we can pay attention. If the voice is an instrument, Nadler, when she harmonizes, sings with the compelling beauty of a string quartet. Just listen to “1923.” With a voice which perfectly emotes longing, Nadler takes you way back in time in a way that feels timeless. The vitality of her voice resuscitates that long lost moment. She makes us feel how they, those who came and went before us, felt. How often can you say that about an artist nowadays, much less one who is still breathing?