Album Review: Marissa Nadler – “For My Crimes”

For My Crimes is the latest album from Sacred Bones’ own Marissa Nadler. Crimes is the follow-up to her excellent 2016 release Strangers, which received critical acclaim from both critics and fans. Strangers was an album that saw Nadler taking on the elements of depression, loneliness, and overall despair, all the while using detailed narratives to explore these themes. The lush instrumentation and backing arrangements helped to make this one of the most heartbreaking albums of the past few years. With For My Crimes, Nadler strips back those lush arrangements and instrumentation of her previous records and goes for a tone that is more direct, yet still sullen and brooding.

One of the major strengths of For My Crimes, as with all of her earlier material, is Nadler’s ability to tell stories and paint evocative imagery with her songwriting. All throughout the album, there are moments where the songwriting is so rich with detail that you can almost picture the narrative playing out right in front of you like a film on a projector. Nadler has always had a knack for autobiographically being able to tell a story. In some respects, she feels like pre-Universal Themes Mark Kozelek, minus the bloated parts of his work. Still, the way that she is spin a narrative is no small feat and it works wonders on For My Crimes.

With the title track, Nadler is writing from the perspective of an inmate on death row, presumably being taken on the long corridor to be executed. This is the tale of a killer that is full of contrition and regret. There is a certain aura to this track and the others on the album that just evoke this sense of misery, yet an odd feeling of solace as well. Nadler uses this simple framing of an inmate to relate to her own personal experiences, possibly in a situation where she feels some regrets over some situations that have taken place.

As she sings,

“I’ve done terrible things
Cold and careless lies
You can watch behind the glass as I
Pass through serpentine”

This track is just one of many where Nadler’s writing manages to be nothing short of mesmerizing. The sense of grief and loneliness that conveyed is something that is endlessly relatable, especially to those of us who have gone through those seemingly everlasting periods of despondency. With the second track, “I Can’t Listen to Gene Clark Anymore”, the topic is something that is deeply personal to Nadler herself. That topic of not being able to listen to one of her favorite musicians due to a lost lover. This track, in particular, hit a little too close to home for me personally and stuck around in my subconscious long after the album finished. On the ever-so haunting “All Out of Catastrophes”, we see a relationship that is slowly deteriorating to the point where one member is “planning escape strategies”. The tone of heartbreak is just looming all around this track and you get a sense of regret from both sides. With “Say Goodbye to That Car”, Nadler uses the analogy of an old car to a relationship that has run out of mileage. Moments like these are what keep For My Crimes fresh and engaging.

For My Crimes is full of quality material, but it isn’t free of any and all problems. The album falters with how there is a distinct lack of diversity within the overall song structures. Simply put, they can feel simple and repetitive. Due to this stripped back approach, all of the sonic embellishments that were on records like Strangers and 2014’s masterful July, are not present. There can be a real sense of deja vu when listening to this record, which holds the album back from feeling truly cohesive. Individually, these tracks feel very tightly confound to their frame, but within the album as a whole, there’s not much variety. The chord progressions of each track feel very similar and while each song individually is performed well, some songs feel indistinguishable from others. The end result is that a few of these tracks feel like they bleed into one another and thus, make the album as a whole feel non-essential. This would be a more paramount issue, but thankfully Nadler’s performance and songwriting carry it along.


As for Nadler herself, she performs very well, but the sameness of the music can be felt in her performance too. Not to say that she sounds bad per se because that’s not true at all. However, like with the song structures, rarely does Nadler ever deviate singing or vocal inflection. Even with help from Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Mary Lattimore, the record could have used some more in the way of variation.

While For My Crimes may not feel essential within Marissa Nadler’s discography, there is still something hypnotic and enthralling about the way she is able to convey the nuances of sadness through her songwriting. In a way, this album is the perfect soundtrack for the upcoming fall season. The gloominess of autumn matches up well with Marissa Nadler’s gothic sonic palette and songwriting. It can be repetitive at times, but don’t let that drive away from this album. Overall, this is another worthwhile release from the veteran singer-songwriter and needs to be given the proper attention it deserves.


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