Marissa Nadler’s latest is one of her best yet, adding a little warmth to her haunting rendition of goth-Americana. Whether she’s playing vague with evocative line, as in “Divers of the Dust” (“the waves were screaming/city streets/you look out the window to see/seven lines of stunted trees”), or singing directly, as in “Katie I Know” (“it’s hard to know when to let go/cause I can bury this heart of mine”), Nadler’s words and voice cut deep. Musically, Strangers is a blend of old and new sounds, but the mixture works. “Hungry Is the Ghost” effuses spectral beauty, with slowcore guitars and swelling cosmic sounds, balancing out a song like “Skyscraper,” which is full of spare acoustics and medieval flutes. Though the feel is wintry as per her usual style, “All the Colours of the Dark” is actually one of the sweetest sounding songs Nadler has put to tape, full of genteel fingerpicking, Southern sounding strings and layered organ and piano. Wading through the album’s melancholia, which is pleasurable in its own way, it gives way to the sighing steel guitars of the title track, as well as perhaps her best song yet, “Janie in Love,” in which her swooping, birdsong voice calls out in shudder-inducing beauty, “you’re a natural disaster, and I am watching you blow up everything, you touch and the earth will crumble.” Though bleak, Nadler’s previous albums have never been short of stunning. This time, the music offers not just commiseration but light at the end of the tunnel.
Strand Of Oaks is the brainchild of singer-songwriter/producer Timothy Showalter. The Philadelpia-based muscian crafts anthemic stadium ready choruses drawing inspiration from classic folk-rock while making his own unqiue brand of modern Americana. Now signed to the the Dead Oceans label, Showalter finds himself in great company with the likes of Akron/Family and Bishop Allen, to name a few. For his label debut, Showalter manages to take folk-based song ideas and turn them into rock gold. Pulling from personal life woes, Showalter uses his self pitty and pain of a failed marriage to create a well-produced record filled with classic pop characteristics. He's got big drums, big hooky choruses and just the right amount of distortion. Strand Of Oaks' HEAL is out now on LP and CD.
Timothy recently visited Amoeba San Francisco and picked up some great albums. He first digs up a vinyl copy of Security by progressive rock icon Peter Gabriel. He follows that with Boston folk singer Marissa Nadler's July and Future Islands' In the Evening Air. A true fan of great songwriting, Timothy digs far and wide. He also picks up albums by Nick Cave and Kurt Vile and talks about some nostalgic music from his childhood. Watch the full What's In My Bag? episode below for all his awesome picks.
Vinyl isn't cheap, nor is is tawdry, so the collecting of it has become much more a matter of discernment than it used to be.
The following is a list, alphabetical, perchance by merit, of the vinyl (new titles and re-issues) that made the cut in 2014. It doesn't presume to be a "Best Of," as I am very aware of the peculiarities of my particular set of listening apparatuses. It is a list of the vinyl that my scattershot attention locked on to, brought home and allowed to bed down in the limited space that I allot for records in my home.
AMEN DUNES Love (Sacred Bones)
Folky, trippy, with that under-water production we've heard from the likes of KURT VILE, except where VILE is stoned and hanging with his buddies, AMEN DUNES' Damon McMahon is lost in a vast open space, deep in the mushroom and calling "Marco Polo" to the night sky. Stark and brittle while somehow managing to remain lush. I don't think I listened to any album of 2014 as often as I've listened to this.
Xiu Xiu’s best album in years harkens back to their darkest early days with an uncompromising sound. Trading in the pop tones of his last couple of albums for a palette of grays and blacks, aided by harsh (in the best way) analog synths, Angel Guts gets Jamie Stewart back into his most confrontational mode, though there are still unmistakable pop hooks (something Stewart hasn’t quite ever gotten credit for) lurking beneath songs like “Stupid in the Dark.”
Fresh in the racks at Amoeba Music Hollywood just today is the wonderfully bleak and dissonant Portal of Sorrow (via Disharmonic Variations), a truly collaborative effort by the one-man depressive black metal band Xasthur and ethereal folkie Marissa Nadler. Scott Conner, aka Malefic, the man behind Xasthur, recently announced that this would be the absolute final release under the Xasthur banner. Oh! And what a glorious end it is! Upon first spin, Portal is easily recognizable as the best of Conner’s last few releases and will likely hold up as one of the touchstones in the Xasthur discography and beyond -- wherever Conner decides to go next.
The album announces its individuality in the Xasthur catalog with acoustic guitars that swirl around a plodding dirge enveloped by the ghostly purrs of Nadler. Eventually this lovely and melancholic breath is absconded away by the brief shattering sounds of glass and horror-film -orchestra stabs that leads into the cascade of bizarrely mixed buzzsaw guitar, Deathrock-like bass warbles and clattering cardboard box drums of the second track, “Broken Glass Christening.” The song is then shortstopped by an ominous piano, Malefic’s anguished shrieks and further apparitional lacing from Nadler. For all the album’s sorrowful moments, there are flashes in half-light, like the lovely “Mourning Tomorrow,” which infiltrates the album’s tracklist like a Folk-Noir Cocteau Twins. The LP lacks any monotonous riffing or repetition usually found in the gloomier end of the Black Metal genre, and aside from the above mentioned instrumentation, incorporates synthesizer and organ which supply some very dreamy yet crestfallen ambiance.