There's something indescribably fascinating about staring through a window, a voyeurism that fills a need deep down in many people's souls. Marissa Nadler confesses to being something of a home bird, spending much of her time when at home in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighbourhood, using the distance between a pane of glass and the real world as the muse for her quintessentially Gothic folk songs.
Strangers is an odd title for her seventh album since emerging in the early noughties, only because the characters that inhabit it's hazy passages are drawn both from memory but from all around her circle, some references necessarily obtuse, some less so; familiarity it seems, pays the rent.
Becoming more open and experiential in song writing terms has in every respect has been something of a gradual process for Nadler, as rumblings from fans of her earlier neoclassicism about nudging towards the mainstream - following for instance in the footsteps of Sharon Van Etten - lingered faintly around Stranger's predecessor, July. If she was abashed by this aversion to change, the sometime unlikely collaborator with renowned dirge metallists Sunn O )) makes few concessions to it here, continuing the process of topical enrichment spurred on by marriage and getting sober begun some years ago.
This said, the Bostonian retains an edge of fragility which is still the cornerstone of her appeal. Opener Divers Of The Dust may be about a coming apocalypse, but eschews the idea of viewing the firework show from the bridge, mellowly deep in cool piano tones and swathed in twilight and mist. In so much as Armageddon rarely makes for great pop music, this skill to disguise is frequently put to good use throughout Strangers. When the subjects are closer to home they're beguiling, stories told with a fondness such as her vicarious joy for serial monogamist Janie In Love - the song itself a dreamy alt. rock n' roll ballad played out under fractured mirror balls, romanticism under hypnosis - or that of a lost friendship on the bridled Katie I Know.
An equally important facet of Nadler's work is in the visual arts, of translating feelings into a different sensory register. Often mixing these disciplines results in a curious flatness of tone, but Strangers in places reaches a crescendo, the lingering undertows of All The Colours Of The Dark overwhelmed a little by Hungry Is The Ghost, a highway of real life avatars and event horizons captured in the foundling country strum and astral lines which took Mazzy Star to within a hair's breadth of the American public's psyche.
Much of the dislocating effect here is an involuntary one as we slip deeper into the album's vicarious nooks and curios, not least of which is Shadow Show Diane, an exhibitionist who's performances, whilst impersonal, become a closeted pleasure for the writer who to an archetypally picked guitar finds herself keeping both of the pair's secrets. Diane's story, like many others is one which is neither allegorical or metaphor, instead an artefact, a life captured like bugs on flypaper.
Windows then - they can never quite seal the outside from us, or vice versa. On Strangers Marissa Nadler has produced subtle fluctuations in her palette, drawing strength and no little grace from sketching those who appear only sometimes in relief. Side on or through the glass, she allows us only to see of the what she wants us to see, an illusory trick which gives her music a canvas by which to intrigue the listener. There will be fewer more witching rides of their kind all year than this one.
Official Site -