Marissa Nadler deserves an award for her prolificacy. The American singer-songwriter has released eight records since her 2004 debut – and that’s not counting a string of EPs. But her latest effort, ‘For My Crimes’, is frustratingly subtle growth from the ‘freak folk’ storyteller who’s surely ready to head in a bolder direction.
That’s not to say that Nadler hasn’t surpassed the boundaries of her finger-picking folk music before. On her last release, 2016’s ‘Strangers’, the Massachusetts soloist at times drew from widescreen Americana, using a full complement of spaghetti Western guitars and shuffling drums. Melodic country-pop permeated her best record to date, 2014’s ‘July’. These were necessary evolutions from the elegant, though sometimes tedious songs of her earlier material. ‘For My Crimes’ picks from the musician’s past and invites new voices (Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten) though only offers a small smattering of new sounds.
On lead single ‘For My Crimes’, Nadler narrates from the perspective of a person on death row. In her trademark pseudo-Southern gothic drawl, Nadler glissades between octaves as cellist Janel Leppin’s gorgeous strings unfurl. “They secure my wrist with ties”, Nadler sings, before Olsen’s spectral cries join the chorus. It’s an evocative scene-setter and one of the album’s richest moments.
Later, Leppin’s strings on ‘I Can’t Listen To Gene Clark Anymore’ breath much-needed life into its composition. Van Etten’s guest vocal is also a welcome addition, transforming the song from a languid musing on heartbreak into a quietly brilliant anthem. Elsewhere, ‘Blue Vapor’ continues the album’s motif of failed romance. Nadler uses metaphor to sketch out the detrimental effects of inescapable desire. “I’ve been foreign / I’ve been turning / Into blue vapor”, she croons, before the song is thrillingly torn asunder by crashing beats.
These beautiful moments are, however, too few and far between. Too many songs blur into the next (‘Interlocking’ and ‘All Out of Catastrophes’, to name just a couple). Perhaps it’s due to Nadler’s dependence on certain vocal patterns and a no-frills, three/four guitar chord approach. Simple song structures aren’t to be scoffed at, but trouble lands when things become a little too predictable.