As a child, Marissa Nadler was obsessed with Unsolved Mysteries. From 1987, the documentary series originally ran for almost 20 years and 600 episodes, focusing on strange cases of sudden disappearances. Those stories, of forgotten people and lives cut short, found their way back into Nadler’s life during the last 18 months – stuck at home during the pandemic, she dove headfirst into these other worlds that offered an escape from her own.
The result is the prolific singer-songwriter’s ninth album ‘The Path of the Clouds’, a record at once expansive and surprising lyrically and melodically. She nods to 1928 wilderness explorers Bessie and Glen Hyde on transportive opener ‘Bessie Did You Make It’, and pays homage to 1971 plane hijacker D.B. Cooper on the title track – yet there’s no twitchy interrogation of what he did or did not do; she uses the space instead to offer a salient meditation on what it means to take control of your own destiny.
Yet fiction doesn’t swallow us whole, with Nadler’s forthright vision for her own evolution as an artist still ambitious – all 11 tracks here are self-produced, and she’s enlisted collaborators including cosmic harp player Mary Lattimore, Mercury Rev member Jesse Chandler and multi-instrumentalist Milky Burgess (a recent contributor on the atmospheric score for Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic horror Mandy).
There’s a determination with her new collaborators to move beyond the “ethereal” and “haunting” epithets that have followed Nadler for the last two decades, particularly felt here in the seductive bassline of ‘If I Could Breath Underwater’ and in defiant, menacing chords (yet it wouldn’t be Nadler at her best without delicate fingerpicking elsewhere too) on ‘Couldn’t Have Done The Killing’.
‘Elegy’ stands out for its quiet devastation, with Lattimore’s work elevating the ghostly into something altogether spellbinding, while the romance of ‘Lemon Queen’ swells with a distinct lack of reverb on Nadler’s voice and the warm twang of shimmering strings closing the album on a cinematic, mournful note. “Taller and taller / Over you,” she sings, leaving the question hanging in the air as to whether or not the person she’s speaking to is still in a place to hear this.
This is a departure for Nadler in a number of ways, with more sophisticated production, unusual storytelling, and a firm look ahead to her future as an artist (more piano, more power vocally). It all makes for a moving look at people who changed, transformed, disappeared and faded, but are immortalised on a beautiful record.
Release date: October 29
Record label: Sacred Bones Records