Storytelling has always been key to Marissa Nadler‘s music. Whether in the form of ballads, outlaw country-style lore, or more free-form experimentalist lyrics, there is nothing more important to her dreamy sounds than the substance behind them. Nadler spins five more tales, three originals, and two covers on the new EP The Wrath of the Clouds. Initially left on the cutting room floor in the wake of the 2021 full-length release The Path of the Clouds, they now make for a private gallery’s worth of poignant and unconventional portraiture.
She begins out at sea with “Guns on the Sundeck”, the story of an anthropomorphized RMS Queen Mary. Once a proud transatlantic ocean liner, the actual ship is relegated today to the docks of Long Beach as a hotel and tourist attraction. Nadler brings her to life, or something like it, tracing her from the first launch to a stifling retirement (“‘I miss the ocean,’ she said / ‘It’s nice in the sun, but I need a break from the dead people'”). Such a narrative could easily turn ironic or preposterous in another songwriter’s hands. However, Nadler treats the vessel with reverence, giving her voice and tracing ghostly happenings (“Pedder died in ’66 / You can still hear him banging in the cellar of the ship”) that speak to long histories intertwined with human lives and deaths. All the while, Nadler’s delivery is full of gravitas not often given to ballads sung for boats.
More intimate and more expansive is “All the Eclipses”, a celestial ballad filled with shadowy wonder. Situated beneath the night sky, Nadler is wholly in her element here. Her voice echoes over rippling guitars and lightly marching percussion, praising the skies (“All the eclipses / Silver and gold / Give me something to hold”). It’s one of Nadler’s simpler pieces, but no less lyrical for it.
Her third track, “Some Secret Existence”, is another haunting true tale. This one tells of Dottie Caylor, a woman with agoraphobia who disappeared in 1985 after supposedly entering a train station in California. As Nadler revives her memory in song, she wishes for the best (“Some said she got on the train / With a suitcase and a hat / And I hope it went that way / ‘Cause no one’s seen her since the spring / And I know she liked to dream of disappearing”) even as her eerie layers of vocal harmonies suggest a sadness that knows how unlikely a happy ending is.
Renditions of Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” and the Alessi Brothers’ “Seabird” are the record’s final two tracks. Already melancholy, the former is a perfect fit for Nadler’s gauzy voice. The latter, meanwhile, becomes softer and sleeker, a velvet-covered version of its former self.
Marissa Nadler’s tendencies toward the capital-r Romantic have always made for lush listening. The assorted pieces on The Wrath of the Clouds are welcome additions to her blissfully moody repertoire. Unorthodox subject matter and an ability to find the more macabre aspects of daily life take Nadler in fresh, less explored directions, while her tried and true sonic and storytelling techniques remain effective. Like any good EP, it leaves me excited for Nadler’s next venture, whatever sagas it entails.