For more than 12 years, Marissa Nadler has perfected her own take on the exquisitely sculpted gothic American songform. On her seventh full-length, Strangers, she has shed any self-imposed restrictions her earlier albums adhered to, stepped through a looking glass, and created a truly monumental work.
In the two years since 2014’s elegiac, autobiographical July, Nadler has reconciled the heartbreak so often a catalyst for her songwriting. Turning her writing to more universal themes, Nadler dives deep into a surreal, apocalyptic dreamscape. Her lyrics touch upon the loneliness and despair of the characters that inhabit them. These muses are primal, fractured, disillusioned, delicate, and alone. They are the unified voice of this record, the titular “strangers.”
This sense of “end times” is exemplified by the sparse, piano-driven opener “Divers of the Dust.” Written utilizing a Dadaist cut-up technique (popularized by David Bowie and William S. Burroughs), Nadler layers hypnagogic imagery of waves pulling cities into the ocean over a very personal tale of longing.
Once again partnered with July producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Black Mountain) Nadler has created a new album equal in sonic quality to the apocalyptic lyrical tone that covers its 44 minutes. In places her voice and guitar play off subsonic synths, while elsewhere, as in “Katie I Know,” a pulsing drumbeat launches the song off into an intense, confrontational place. “Janie in Love” is another full-band highlight, marrying the album’s most allegorically primal lyrics to the melodic hooks that makes Nadler one of the best songwriters working today.
J.R. Robinson perceives life as a long, gradual process of decay. Lightness fades into darkness, while innocence succumbs to the evils of modern society. His music reflects not only this worldview but his emotional response to it. Then It All Came Down, his second long-form composition as Wrekmeister Harmonies, is an exploration of that existential deterioration and an attempt at attaining a deeper understanding of its process. Wrekmeister Harmonies' pastoral doom has earned praise from Pitchfork, SPIN, Decibel, and Invisible Oranges as a new form of metal composition and performance involving a wide variety of instrumentation. Employing an enormous ensemble of some of Chicago's best talents in the metal and experimental communities, including Sanford Parker (Corrections House, Twilight), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), Ryley Walker, Chanel Pease (Pulse Programming), Chris Brokaw (Codeine, Come), members of Indian and Leviathan and more, Robinson has created a work that is equally gorgeous and menacing. Few artists have perfected the nuances of beauty as well as annihilation, and Robinson's mastery of both sides of the spectrum makes his a unique voice in the field of doom.
Then It All Came Down opens with a low, soft drone, creeping in almost imperceptibly. Bells chime as more tonal voices emerge from the ether, Walker's acoustic guitar echoing in the abyssal soundscape. Several women sing as sirens: "Beautiful Sun." The piece is inspired by and takes its name from an essay written by Truman Capote following his interview with Manson-associate Bobby Beausoleil (which translates as "beautiful sun"), whose dangerous spirit and embodiment of occult ideals offer an extreme example of the light into dark transition the piece explores. As the soft drones and angelic voices are replaced with threatening rumbles of distortion and low cackles courtesy of Wrest, an overwhelming sense of unease permeates the piece's atmosphere, only a harbinger of what is to come. When the piece does explode into crushing howls and heavy doom, all semblance of tranquility and stillness, the light, the peace, is exterminated.
Then It All Came Down was debuted at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago under a full moon in July of 2013, the first in an annual series called Beyond The Gate. The series continued in 2014 with a debut of another new Wrekmeister composition which will be released in early 2015. Wrekmeister Harmonies will continue to bring large-scale productions involving a rotating cast of guest musicians to unconventional performance spaces throughout 2014-15, and has a future collaboration planned with The Body. An essay by Robinson about Beausoleil's influence on Charles Manson and his ideological lineage from Alastair Crowley is available for deeper insights into Robinson's fascination with the controversial cult figure.
The CD version contains his debut, 2013's You've Always Meant So Much To Me, previously issued only on LP. The artwork was created by Simon Fowler, who has also created original art for Earth, Sunn O)), and more. A very limited edition of this image was created as a print by Mr. Fowler and will be available from Thrill Jockey.
Muscle and Marrow
Muscle and Marrow, formed in 2013, is Kira Clark (guitar, voice) and Keith McGraw (drums, samples). Their sound is surprisingly full, with either lush and drone like guitars or drastically fuzzed, as well as heavy drums. The songs, however, are powered by Clark's voice, soaringly operatic and high at times, while shaking and guttural at others.
They are interested in the morose, the ugly, the jarring and the soft. They rely heavily on changing dynamics and avoid the linear, instead gravitating towards the clashing of sounds, their voice and drumming almost hypnotic at times, followed by sudden bursts of distorted noise and thrashing drums. They draw inspiration from literature, film, contemporary poetry, darkness with redemption and darkness without it, but their songs are at their core, deeply personal. Comparisons can be found in Chelsea Wolfe, Swans, Shannon Wright.
For more than 12 years, Marissa Nadler has perfected her own take on the exquisitely sculpted gothic American songform. On her seventh full-length, Strangers, she has shed any self-imposed restrictions her earlier albums adhered to, stepped through a looking glass...