A cloud taking a whiskey chaser in a dodgy bar at 2am.
Marissa Nadler’s 9th studio album is inspired by her love for the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. In a wonderful parallel to my world, my family also loved the show in its original early runs. We have a family in-joke about where we say to each other when something is weird ‘what is this strange phenomenon’ whilst overly stressing the NON. Robert Stack was very dramatic. Marissa Nadler decided that there are voices and stories that need to be told and this album is a collection of them.
Each song is inspired by a story and musically Marissa Nadler moves away slightly from her haunted dusty ethereal folk style to a full ‘band’ sound. The album features some of her strongest singing for a while (power wise) and a wider instrument palette too. The slow-burning folk of the title track is brim with zithers, guitars, bass and drums. Its instrumentation is purposely like everything is gliding along in slow motion whilst building a powerful force behind it too. Written about hijacker D.B Cooper, Marissa offers an interesting slant on deciding to take charge of destiny, even if that end result is a doomed one. Elsewhere, others murdered, missing or lost are given their own stories a voice too from varying perspectives. It’s an unusual way to tell a story but that makes it more compelling as you can enjoy this musical take on things and then have a debate about how their perspective is being portrayed in your head too. If you get into the lyrics and idea, I’m sure there’s a musical equivalent of a book club somewhere where you could have a lively debate.
For me, the album holds a very specific space sonically. Marissa Nadler is a queen of heavy reverb and a mixture of brushed guitar noise and finger-picked melodies. All of these are here. The beautiful ‘Turned Into Air’ has its light vocals and meditative guitar picking. I can feel the whiskey dregs from the dusty guitars and organs of ‘If I Could Breathe Underwater’. The album leans a lot into pianos, organs and Mary Lattimore’s guest harp playing, which is on the aforementioned track. It gives Nadler’s work its ethereal treatment but it is from a different tone and perspective than just piling on the reverb and washing out a guitar. Nadler manages to give everyone plenty of that too, but with an expanded palette comes new ways of giving us that dusty undead vibe. ‘Elegy’ is a great example of this. An emotional purge ballad full of organs, pianos, harps, twanging guitars and rich vocal arrangements – its absolutely Marissa Nadler’s style. It is just achieved slightly differently.
Both from a lyrical and a musical standpoint, ‘The Path of the Clouds’ is a deceptively bold step to try new ideas and they all work beautifully. The push into chamber instruments and real Southern desert organs works a treat alongside Marissa’s dark ethereal folk style. Even her voice is given more clarity on the closer ‘Lemon Queen’. Here’s hoping that she continues to explore new avenues as this is a beautiful body of work with a lot of layers of heart and soul to it.
Recommended track: Bessie, Did You Make It?
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