This is the music playing when you walk through a small town, styled in the early 1900s, and everyone’s a goddamn ghost. Their peering eyes stare directly into yours as you walk past. Nobody’s talking. An old lady with a hunched back casually lifts an impossibly heavy oven with one hand as she gently sweeps underneath it with the other. A little girl in a dingy flower dress giggles as she solves P versus NP and the Riemann hypothesis in her scrapbook. Everything’s as it should be. Gravity still exists. All the rules of earth and culture still seem to apply. But, at the same time, everything’s fucky. This is a folk album that sets itself apart in a casual way. All the elements fit nicely. There’s even a fucking Gun’s a Roses cover. But what makes this album stand out is in the style all these standard elements fit together in such a dark, ghostly, and strangely optimistic way.
Marissa Nadler has made a career by singing like a siren. As she sings it’s difficult not to steer my ship toward those jagged-ass rocks. You’d think the pile of dead pirates with massive erections, perked nipples, and swollen clits floating in the water might dissuade me, but Marissa’s echoing voice is just that fucking hypnotic. Yet it’s Stephen’s firmly grounded, distorted, and harrowing guitar that makes this album. Stephen is the guitarist behind acts like Cave In, Mutoid Man, and New Idea Society. Without Stephen’s firm hand to hold it down, Marissa’s voice would float away like some drunken balloon with dreams of being an actor even though they have no formal training. Stephen’s guitar is firm. It’s thick. It’s dustier than the inside of a vacuum. It’s the rock that Marissa sits on so she can dreamily sing sexual organs into tumescence and ships into fuckery. Hearing these two together for the first time, you wonder why the fuck they aren’t a thing all the time. This shit works. Keep it.
There are a few moments on the album which seem to swing off course. You’ll either love them or hate them. I know some people prefer to gnaw on a few nuggets of optimism on their way to being capsized, ravaged, and fucked. Personally, I like the songs fine but I’d rather that the storm raged on, the darkness took on a deeper shade, and for the ghost town to not feature a candy store. Yet, despite these few rays of sunshine, this album is one gloomy and dirty motherfucker that sits outside the Woodstock folk style. The only flowers on this album are dead, the only open fields are full of tombstones, and that’s just how I fucking like it.