Much of what has been written about July so far would lead you to believe that this is a very dark album. You might decide that Marissa Nadler sounds like a witch crafting a spell in a bubbling cauldron of ghostly guitars. But July is closer to a lullaby. A slightly sweet, slightly melancholy lullaby. It’s been a long road for Nadler—six studio LPs and years of touring—and on July, that cautionary world-weariness shows.
The album is called July because it chronicles Nadler’s life from one July to the next. The opening track, Drive, sets the mood for the entire LP. And the mood is much more lonely country dive bar crooner than haunted mansion soundtrack. On Drive, Nadler could easily be a modern day Loretta Lynn, singing, “You used to drink more than your man could/waiting for the light” In 1923, it’s “I called you from another century to see if the world had been kind and sweet.” And in Firecrackers, a repeated refrain of “We have drunk our summers away,” follows the subdued themes of the down-and-out.
July’s strongest points come when Nadler has the most room to stretch her vocal muscles. Like in Was It A Dream, where squeezed background vocals, a buzz-cut guitar and a tambourine keep the structure in tact as Nadler changes her pitch in nearly each line. Or in Anyone Else, where Nadler slides along her vocal range in time with the shifting guitar chords. Or in Firecrackers, which opens with a many syllabled repetition of the title, creating a dynamic sound with just one word.
The album’s final track, Nothing In My Heart, is a wearied acceptance of solipsism. It fades out eerily slowly, and then the album ends with a moment of nothingness—a crushing, ungraspable moment of nothingness. In an interview with CMJ, Nadler named two words she wouldn’t want used to describe her music: “ethereal” and “haunting.” But the most basic definitions of those words are accurate descriptions of July: “ethereal,” not because the album is weak or watered down, but because it carries a celestial heaviness; and “haunting,” not because it’s scary, but because it will stick with you long after you’ve finished listening.