Review Summary: Could be her best.The Path of the Clouds
begins in 1928 on the Colorado River in a handmade canoe. How and why we arrive at this place/time can be explained by Marissa Nadler’s childhood obsession with the Unsolved Mysteries
series; a television show which began in 1987 and was centered around unexplained disappearances. She binge-watched reruns of the show during 2020’s pandemic lockdown, which combined with her own unique isolation (which felt like a disappearance in its own right) inspired her haunting and mesmeric tenth LP. Thus, The Path of the Clouds
commences inquisitively, with Nadler’s chants of “did you make it?” searching the ethos for answers from a then record-seeking Bessie Hyde. She would have been the first woman to run the Colorado River rapids had she returned; instead, the newlywed set off on this adventure-style honeymoon with her husband Glen, and neither of them were ever seen or heard from again. The song’s atmosphere matches the bizarre and creepy nature of the subject matter, as an electric drone rises softly across the song’s mystical acoustic backdrop, culminating in Nadler’s bone-chilling delivery of the line: “Fifty years later the tale turns to legend / A woman claimed to be Bess for a second / By the fire, she said without smiling / I’m Bessie, I killed him, I was simply surviving.” This outro addresses theories that Bessie eventually escaped the wilderness alone, allegedly fleeing a relationship that was abusive behind closed doors. It’s the sort of stuff that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on-end. From ‘Bessie, Did You Make It?’ onward, it’s clear that The Path of the Clouds
is a step beyond Marissa Nadler’s “ambient/ethereal” calling card – an aptly applied descriptor for sure, but also one that fails to do justice to a piece as inspired and brimming with intrigue as The Path of the Clouds
The fact that the record’s opening song traverses both space and time is appropriate, because The Path of the Clouds
sounds like it can’t be contained by either. Here, Nadler has enlisted a talented crew of collaborators: cosmic-sounding harp player Mary Lattimore, guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle, Simon Raymonde (of Cocteau Twins), Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev), Amber Webber (Black Mountain, Lightning Dust), and multi-instrumentalist Milky Burgess. There seems to be an active push against adjectives like breezy
, and although The Path of the Clouds
can be both of those things, we also get icy pianos, blustery guitar licks, and more powerful vocals from Nadler. The album represents a rockier edge to Nadler’s reputation for all things otherworldly, and the two aesthetics perform a beautiful dance. This is perhaps never more apparent than it is on ‘Couldn’t Have Done The Killing’ – which begins with Marissa’s delicate fingerpicking and builds to a series of menacing, fluctuant riffs – or ‘Well Sometimes You Just Can’t Stay’, which crashes the gates with distorted electric guitars but features a blissfully entrancing chorus. Nadler seems keenly aware that in order to tell what is, in essence, ghost stories
, the experience needs to careen between the earthly and the supernatural. It’s in suspending its atmosphere between worlds that The Path of the Clouds
truly lives up to its billing, providing a worthy sonic counterpart to these mysterious tales of lost life.
This could be Marissa Nadler’s best album, which is saying a lot considering her prolific output spanning two decades and nine previous LPs. Rarely has Nadler sounded this convicted or confident, and while the imaginative aspect of this record was berthed from the Unsolved Mysteries
series, Nadler embraces it thematically and metaphorically to make it her own. Take for instance the title track, which reserves interrogation/judgment for the famed 1971 plane hijacker D.B. Cooper – who extorted two hundred thousand dollars in ransom money and then literally parachuted away (never to be found) – instead spinning it into a tale about making your own fate. The Path of the Clouds
glides and knifes its way through these immortalized figures, extracting their stories and molding each one into something universal. It’s Marissa Nadler’s most ambitious undertaking from a lyrical perspective, but she pulls it off brilliantly while simultaneously delivering an album that sounds so lush, sweeping, and powerful that all of the subtle, intricate melodies are merely the cherry on top. This far into one’s career, it can be easy to overlook a groundbreaking effort when it happens. With Nadler’s The Path of the Clouds
, she’s done all she can to avoid fading into oblivion like the characters she writes about so compellingly here.