Review Summary: A deep longing for what could have been
On paper, the matchup between the talents of Stephen Brodsky and Marissa Nadler is intriguing to say the least. Brodsky, who has cut his teeth in both the realms of punishingly heavy and light and spacious, is more musically eclectic. Nadler, who has been quietly releasing her own brand of “dream folk” to critical acclaim for the past 15+ years, is much more specialized but no less impressive. Both are known for their penchant for creating gorgeous set pieces thick with atmosphere, and so the duo seems like a match made in heaven. However, the result of Droneflower
to create something memorable is a bit more complicated than one would expect.
sounds mostly like you’d surmise. Pretty piano and folky acoustic guitar accompany Nadler’s washed out, trancelike singing through most of the run time. The atmosphere both beautiful and somewhat eerie, mostly thanks to Nadler’s vocal contributions. The approach is extremely simplistic, generally being one or two instruments at a time with Nadler singing over the top of them. This is both a strength and a weakness. I found Droneflower
at its most memorable when it was exploring slightly different territory such as the plodding and unnerving distorted guitar of “For the Sun”, and the welcome addition of a tambourine towards the end of “Estranged.” For better or for worse, those moments of differentiation are used sparingly. On the plus side, that makes the album’s spacey and minimalistic atmosphere seem very cohesive throughout, but it also potentially limits the amount of memorable high points that Droneflower
could have employed.
Therein lies the problem- Droneflower
fails to throw any major curveballs into the mix to make itself memorable. The vast majority of the album would find itself right at home on Marissa Nadler’s latest LP, only I would actually argue that that record is more varied in approach. A series of oversights truly limit the scape of what this album could have been.
The first oversight is the glaring lack of percussion. Aside from the aforementioned “Estranged” (which only utilizes tambourine in the final 2 minutes of its more than 7 minute runtime), Droneflower
is completely devoid of any percussion. No shakers or handclaps. Nothing. The album is content to meander along at its own pace with no sense of urgency or rhythmic resolve. Another curious exemption is Brodsky’s voice. Brodsky is capable of providing a myriad of styles and influences, as is shown in his back catalogue of works, and yet he is entirely absent from the vocal aspect of the album. I would have loved to have heard Brodsky take the lead vocally for a song or two, backed with Nadler’s sweet croons, or even have contributed some backing singing while she maintained the spotlight, but Droneflower
contains none of that. Nadler is more than capable of rising to this challenge, but it would have varied the delivery and sound of this record in such a positive way. I also would’ve loved to have heard more darker and heavier songs in the vein of “For the Sun”— nothing that would have been at home on the Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas collaborative effort or anything— just something different to break up the monotony of it all.
For better, Droneflower
is a beautiful record rife with atmosphere that lulls its listener gently into a state of calm. For worse, it is an overly repetitious listen that never really strives for greater than or even equal to the sum of its parts. There is a lot to enjoy throughout its easily digestible half-hour-long foray, but there is also a lot to scratch your head about. Droneflower
ultimately does not leave the listener with the lush, memorable soundscape that it craves to, instead replacing it with a deep longing for what could have been.