Words: Steve Belcher
On The Path of the Clouds is an album released in 2021 by Marissa Nadler, unlike on previous releases, Marissa said that she produced this album herself, and that it was mixed by Seth Manchester, and mastered by Heba Kadry. She also claimed that she learned to play keyboards for this album, which works very well in the way it has altered her compositions.
The album opens with “Bessie Did You Make It?” with its Western scenery and cleverly uncertain narrative.
The title track, “The Path of the Clouds” utilizes serenity in its instruments and vocals yet belies a darker story, an urban legend in American history about the Airline Hijacker D.B. Cooper, and his disappearance.
“Couldn’t have done the Killing” makes spacious use of bass and guitar, the lines are broken, and hint either of an unreliable narrator, or the vindication of an innocent person.
“If I Could Breathe Underwater” was the first song that I had heard previewed from this album. I remember reading Marissa describe this song about the question of what a person would do if they had super powers, and what types of superpowers they would have. The song has a dreamy quality to it, lending to its use of keyboard, and more ambient guitar textures.
“Elegy” is a track that has a spacious opening before her voice comes in to provide form and order to the song. Here, her piano notes stand out more than in the previous tracks.
The guitar in “Well Sometimes You Can’t Stay” tends to follow a trend with the overall sonic scenery of this album. I think there’s very much a Western-inspired setting that most of these instruments reside in. Less overtly country, but more the vibe of small town stores and haunts in the American Southwest, and the melancholia that can come with relationships.
“From Vapor to Stardust” has a bittersweet melody to it, reflective, contemplative, in its tones and musical whims.
“Storm” wraps its sensibilities like a warm blanket, I was somehow brought nearly inexplicably to tears here.
“Turned Into Air” Appears at first glance to describe something supernatural or paranormal in its lyrics, a slithering guitar line emerges from under Marissa’s voice, revealing yet still concealing a mystery.
“I Dream of Running” Is at first glance tranquil, then gradually spirals as it progresses.
“Lemon Queen” is the closing track on this album, and is my favorite track on the album, in it, Marissa, describes the snowy landscape of a town at night. However, what I really like on this track is what fills the role of what would be a pedal steel guitar, if it was a pedal steel guitar, it could be slide guitar, but it gives the song a whimsical country dimension to it. Marissa has a very refined skill here in defining a setting and atmosphere that is unique and unmistakable, as with most of this record. What defines a good album is that it not only occupies a space in time, it makes its own setting that is unique to it.
In summary, my impression of listening to this album several times, is that Marissa managed to conjure forth from the ether an album that describes a unique place in the American landscape, its towns and its people, of quaint elegance on the surface, but hiding a sort of darker, or more gothic uncertain quality underneath. The very fact that she drew from the television show Unknown Mysteries, which I watched quite a bit growing up, only seems to accentuate this aspect of her work. Marissa understands the gothic well, as what defines it ultimately is the unknown or the unknowable, in the way that, say, Dead Can Dance or Poe had defined it. What cannot be known, or is unrevealed, what is a person’s true motivations, who a person really is, in that moment of question and clarity one may have when dealing with the notion of “other people,” the “Hell” as Jean Paul Sartre defined it in “No Exit.” And even in this moment of living through this plague on earth That consumes like a raging wildfire across the forests and the open brush, and leaves us with the question of whether we can really trust another human being to do the right thing for everyone else. “Are We in Hell?” I don’t think the music here really says that, there is clearly more to this. In life we find small, momentary pleasures, and seldomly for those of us who are lucky, true friends. Not all that is dark or uncertain, that which is found beneath the surface is necessarily the gothic horror it may appear to be. Sometimes we find jewels on the beach, glittering in the sand.