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Marissa Nadler
The Wrath of the Clouds Zhenzhen Yu , February 9th, 2022 08:55

A companion piece to last year's The Path of the Clouds, Marissa Nadler's new EP finds her in a stripped-back gothic mode

The decades-spanning topography of Marissa Nadler’s work usually circles around imagery more internal and abstract, concerned with the natural world like her psychedelic folk peers. But with 2021’s The Path of the Clouds, she began to keenly explore the narrative form of the murder ballad. The Wrath of the Clouds, a coda EP to that project, comprises a handful of covers and leftover songs, but stands on its own as a dark jewel of dream-folk grandeur. Meditatively, Nadler continues her inquiry into odd, sentimental ornaments of Americana.

Opener ‘Guns on the Sundeck’, the most immediately obvious The Path of the Clouds holdover, is the immediate cynosure of the EP. Sonically, it’s not the most exciting – the seven minutes play out the same way, again and again – but its ghostly narrative is still rapturous through Nadler’s hypnotic elocution. Likewise, the choice of covers highlights the depth and versatility of her voice. Alessi Brothers’ ‘Seabird’ originates as gently swaying soft rock, and Nadler’s interpretation follows the grain rather than subvert it; her delivery is playful and breathless in a way that isn’t usually conducive to her original work. On the other hand, ‘Saunders Ferry Lane’ – already a chillingly forlorn song, even through the smooth gloss of Sammi Smith’s Nashville sound – is positively drowned in gothic sensibility. Nadler’s eulogy, deep and resplendent, imbues the cover with a more complex desolation.

In the same vein, The Wrath of the Clouds is preternaturally concerned with nostalgia, each song disturbing ripples in the fabric of the unchangeable past. Every song seems to namedrop an apostrophized long-ago year: ‘Guns on the Sundeck’’s tale of the HMS Queen Mary chronicles: “Pedder died in ‘66, you can still hear him banging in the cellar of the ship / fall ‘67 was her last hurrah, and they painted her up like a movie star”. Meanwhile, ‘Some Secret Existence’ plays the line between depicting agoraphobia or escape, simultaneously eulogizing and aggrandizing the mysterious whereabouts of its protagonist: “Last was seen in ‘85, from California / maybe she was still alive”. And ‘Saunders Ferry Lane’, though a cover, seems to inform the thesis of the EP – its simple lyrics carry an immeasurable weight of loss and memory. There’s an unusually emotive inflection on Nadler’s voice as she delivers her lament: “The summer drowned in the frozen lake as winter came to life / and nothing moves in Saunders Ferry Lane”.

Despite all its balladic darkness, the EP feels audibly lighter than The Path of the Clouds, like ermine frosting atop a rich cake. Across its comparative minimalism, Nadler’s evolution into a more full-bodied dream pop seems to stop to take a breath. The Wrath of the Clouds is not quite essential Nadler, but its foray into stripped-back gothic folk informs an impressive coda to its 2021 predecessor.