In its most bare form, folk music is powerful enough to bring people together and shape culture through compelling storytelling and imagery. Even today, there is still a place and an audience for the singer-songwriter who leans on little more than their voice and guitar to craft their songs. Marissa Nadler finds herself in this said territory on her eighth studio album For My Crimes.
A Boston-based musician of different artistic fields, Nadler doesn’t write typical folk songs. Her music possesses a mystique that recalls Nico and Leonard Cohen, yet her likeness for penning gloomy, evocative stories feels completely modern.
Her newest LP is another series of dark and intimate portraits that capture feelings of strained relationships, tension and romance, and self-realization. Instrumentally, 2016’s Strangers was Nadler’s heaviest set of songs to date, pushing her folk slowcore in a rather rock-friendly direction. But on For My Crimes, she is without the assistance of a major backing band, often just with her guitar and a handful of guest singers and musicians – almost all of which are female. Among them are indie rock powerhouses Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, whose contributions speak to the album’s aesthetic at large: minimal yet striking.
Accents of electric instruments and subtle string arrangements aid the progression of Nadler’s heavy-hearted narratives. “I Can’t Listen to Gene Clark Anymore,” the album’s most tear-jerking love song, shimmers in a swell of strings and reverb-laden ambience. Faded guitars bridge verses on “Interlocking” as Nadler laments her own misfortunes, and the deceptively fast undertones on “Said Goodbye to that Car” enhance a misty-eyed farewell to past love. The boldest production in the tracklisting, however, comes on “Blue Vapor,” a heavy gust of grunge-Americana that holds up against the best songs in the Marissa Nadler canon.
While there are many notable musical moments on For My Crimes, the most mesmerizing instances on the album come by way of the lyrics and Nadler’s singing. The song structures within the record allow the listener to easily absorb the beautiful harmonies and enchanting melodies that lay throughout it. “You’re Only Harmless When You Sleep” rides over rhythmic finger picking and a dreamy chorus, while “Dream Dream Big in the Sky” turns gentle strumming and waning vocals into a spiritual refrain. Nadler’s voice sits in an angelic register that is as haunting as it is intoxicating.
Even when her lyrics are at their most straightforward, they are piercing. “I have seen my heart grow old, it’s more than I can bear,” she sings in a strained manner on “Lover Release Me.” It’s these blunt narrations that evoke the most trauma and the deepest sentiments. The darkest tale on the record comes by way of the album intro. Also the title track, “For My Crimes” portrays the tormented psyche of a convict on death row and sees Nadler’s storytelling at a level that is downright chilling. The opening lines are coated in a ghostly veneer; “When they take me down the corridor, they secure my wrist with ties,” she hushes.
Though For My Crimes isn’t as diverse of a release as some of Nadler’s previous works, her vocal performances and songwriting make it as captivating as anything she’s released this decade. Well over ten years into her career, she still has an unmistakable voice and her penmanship only seems to be getting more polished with age. She remains one of the most essential folk singers around.