Marissa Nadler Delivers Heartbreak and Sorrow in the Most Beautiful Ways on 'For My Crimes'

Photo: Ebru Yildiz / Courtesy of Bella Union

Rich in textures and raw emotions, Marissa Nadler's For My Crimes is a lush and rewarding record from an assured, mature songwriter.

For My Crimes
Marissa Nadler

Sacred Bones

28 September 2018

The artwork tells you everything you need to know. Imprints of black trees and a grey sea compound a sense of dread and regret with just a hint of white implying a sense of liberation just over the corner. For My Crimes, songwriter Marissa Nadler's latest for Sacred Bones, offers her own oil painting as an evocative album cover, a prelude to her 11 songs of painful realizations about love, loss, and the pain time and distance can inflict on relationships. Her eighth album since her 2004 debut Ballads of Living and Dying, For My Crimes reflects the wonders of Nadler's world-weary songwriting and scratched angelic voice.

Title track "For My Crimes" begs, "Please don't remember me / For my crimes", a sad, humble plea surrounded by a delicate acoustic guitar and woeful violins. If the song doesn't break your heart with its mournful lyrics, it will with its rich arranging and production value. "I Can't Listen to Gene Clark Anymore" is a complex slice of dream folk, amplifying themes of nostalgia and lost love with oceans of reverb and jangling guitars.

Nadler's songs emanate a sadness tinged by a Southern gothic air. Her crooning coupled with moaning cellos and dirty guitars on tracks like "Blue Vapor" present a sense of misery and desolation. Despite being based in the Northeast, her music can best be described as "Nashville Noir", a meeting of Southern singer-songwriter traditions distilled through dream pop and rich studio arranging. "You're Only Harmless When You Sleep" is a hell of a title, and the track lives up to the hype with its heartbroken harmonizing and string background.

"Dream Dream Big in the Sky" features more reverb-drenched vocals, signaling Nadler's spacious voice processing is more than just a passing production concept. It goes beyond the ethereal aesthetics of dream pop, recalling the spotlight treatment of famous past crooners. Processing her voice to make it sound like a distant cry isolated within a towering space emphasizes the loneliness on the album. The complex guitar work of "Interlocking" balances the texture and propels the track forward alongside Nadler's long, flowing vocal lines. Going beyond the voice-and-harmony-instrument obligations of a singer-songwriter, For My Crimes becomes a much richer, rewarding record because of its attention to detail and nuance.

Undeniably so, sorrow and turmoil play the primary themes on For My Crimes. It's a beautiful record from start to stop, yet some listeners may resist being pummeled track by track with tales of existential heartbreak. Thin guitars and airy atmospherics permeate most of the album's 11 songs and, while they have a thematic purpose, they tend to feel tired towards the end. The simplicity of voice, acoustic guitar, and cello saves closing track "Said Goodbye to the Car" from feeling too distant, too static in relation to the rest of the album. As the sound decrescendos and Nadler breathes her way through the last chorus, you can almost hear her resolution, her acceptance, and peace with the tragedy of broken relationships.

Songs about heartbreak are ubiquitous, so much so that they're considered a standard trope of the singer-songwriter set. For My Crimes subverts expectations by focusing on the music and its execution, not merely just the lyrics. Eight albums strong, Nadler knows precisely how to paint a picture with her music, and her latest shows exactly how complex that picture can be.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.