BY STEVEN ROSEN
Marissa Nadler’s soprano voice is like the smoothest elevator ride you’ll ever take. It rises slowly, leveling off for brief peaceful stops before resuming to reach its high – somewhere in the clouds.
On July, her sixth album, the Boston singer-songwriter gets an almost-hallucinatory effect out of her singing, often multi-tracking the voice to create a ghostly pillowing effect. The production by Randall Dunn highlights this, choosing instruments – strings, synths, piano, pedal steel, Nadler’s own reflective acoustic and 12-string guitar – that create a sanctuary, a safe haven, for her to sing these 11 measured, stately compositions.
Her writing, which here often expresses personal sorrow and fear about separated or lost love (“1923,” “Nothing in My Heart”), is alive to the senses and nature but doesn’t get lost in abstractions about feelings.
Indeed, there’s a loose road-trip narrative, as if she’s following photographer Robert Frank’s lonely The Americans somewhere. She grounds her imagery in concrete places and objects that we can see in our mind’s eye – “Firecrackers” is the title of one song; others reference “Chi-town in the winter” and changing a dress in an I-95 rest stop.
Nadler’s label, Sacred Bones, has also released film director David Lynch’s albums. And Nadler’s musical vision does remind one of Lynch’s use of music in his movies, especially the way in Mulholland Drive that he infused an old, conventional female-song pop song like Linda Scott’s “I’ve Told Every Little Star” (along with Roy Orbison’s “Crying”) with scary yet compelling strangeness. Indeed, on one of Nadler’s most powerful songs, “Was It a Dream,” she asks: “Was it a dream or something sinister?”
Because the tempo doesn’t ever dramatically change on the album (no upbeat dance numbers), it does slow a tad as you get to the final tracks. But she has saved some of her best writing for last. On the finale, “Nothing in My Heart,” she sings: “Take a plane and I promise/To put honey in your jar/Maybe it’s the weather/But I’ve got nothing in my heart.”
But she’s got plenty in her voice – and her haunting songs.
DOWNLOAD: “Drive,” “Firecrackers,” “Nothing in My Heart”