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Marissa Nadler wastes no time in cutting close to the bone on July, her latest album and first for her new North American label, Sacred Bones.
“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; it floats freely in the pop cosmos somewhere between gauzy shoegaze, unvarnished folk, and even a hint of metal’s doom-and-gloom spirit.
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. Eyvind 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.
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.