Album Review: Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes

Marissa Nadler is at the top of her game. The artist releases her 8th studio album, For My Crimes, this week via Bella Union and Sacred Bones. For My Crimes finds Nadler wielding acoustic and electric guitar, guiding a cadre of elite musicians and friends on an interpersonal journey through time, space, and the landscapes of blues, country, and folk music. Cameos on the album include vocals from Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Kristin Kontrol, Patty Schemel (Hole, Juliette and the Licks) on drums, Mary Lattimore on harp, and the great experimental multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin on strings. The strong femme energy on this record is buoyed by the Laurel Canyon vibes that surrounded its recording; it was co-produced by Nadler, Lawrence Rothman, and Justin Raisen at Rothman’s Laurel Canyon studio, House of Lux.

Lucky for followers of music everywhere, Nadler has weathered the ups and downs of a long career. Her first album, Ballads Of Living And Dying, debuted in 2004 to critical acclaim. Since then her music has spanned an industry disrupted by streaming access, the end of her original label contract, personal loss, and a career in fine art. For My Crimes finds her sound crystalized to the point of recognition—a Nadler track comes with a peculiar heft and hooked melody—yet flexible enough to eliminate what no longer serves her sound—histrionic vibrato, passive lyrics. This transformation began with 2016’s Strangers, an album this reviewer emphatically recommends. Fans who have been along for the ride since 2004 or who are catching up on her catalogue now have the privilege of observing a musician grow in power and persistence over time—carving out a space that is solely hers.

The title track sprang from Nadler imagining a convict on death row. The song is less character-driven, however, and more a meditation on a fate we can’t escape. An end will come for us, like it does for the song’s narrator, who is led down a cold hall with wrists tied behind her back. It’s a somber conclusion, but the record itself is often powerfully sweet, even in the liminal places between longing and saying goodbye. There are a lot of goodbyes on For My Crimes: to lovers (Lover, Release Me and Are You Really Going To Move To The South loom large here), to the way things were (For My Crimes, Interlocking), to things that become more than things (Said Goodbye To That Car). The longing, the perspective of being just outside of a story that already happened, dominates the album. But longing saves what could unravel into despair. Longing walks hand in hand with hope, and desire, and that is the bright underbelly to this dark, intimate record. It’s the gritty pearl hidden within a wine dark sea.

Lyndsay Dyk