A Journal Of The Dark Arts
What does July, the 6th record from Boston-based sorceress Marissa Nadler, have to do with black metal, drone, avant techno, horror soundtracks and Raymond Carver? Find out…
We’ve got something special in mind this week, from the Forestpunk citadel. Welcome to Folk Week, where we’ll be ripping apart volk at the seams, deconstructing it, smelling it, tasting it, putting it in the crucible and re-activating the ashes.
Every business model, guide and tutorial advises, when starting a publication or any kind of business, to find yr niche and mine it for all it’s worth. Every single one. To write a blog that attempts to report on the current trends of underground dance music, academics, philosophy, horror movies, sci fi novels, traditional music, and every kind of extreme, arty metal is doomed to obscurity. It’s commercial suicide.
However, we don’t feel that this is representative of what it is, to be a musical and cultural obsessive, living and working in 2014. Who do you know that only listens to one kind of music, from one place, at one time? They’re out there, but they tend to be purists, living outside of the slipstream. They’re taking a stand.
For the rest of us, we hear music from a dozen different styles, spanning hundreds of years and several continents, during one afternoon. To attempt to write about and analyze music, especially without the benefit of academic training or having been in the field when some sort of Authoritative gaze was still feasible, there’s a lot of catching up and a lot of making shit up. We are living in the future, and as such, we are making it up, as we go along.
Forestpunk was started as an attempt to map and explore the in-between spaces, the gray liminal states, beyond binaries and logic and rationality. We exist in the murk, in the fog, in the confusion. Hauntologists, magicians, lunatics, rogue theorists, luddites, dadaists, we look for the cracks, the holes in the logic, where Academia shuts down, and we are forced to rely on other faculties that, surprise surprise, hardly have names.
The other day, i came across a wonderful and dense new blog called A Year In The Country, thanks to a heads up from my friend Leigh Wright. A Year In The Country is another team of active Hauntologists and folklorists, inspired by the book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young, (which i’ve just started reading, so more on that in a bit).
In the introduction, Rob Young says:
Nowadays it’s become as much a signifier of texture and aesthetics as an indicator of ingrained authenticity – as in such descriptive terms as ‘acid folk’, ‘free folk’, even the ungainly ‘folktronica’.
Folk is a sonic ‘shabby chic’ that contains elements of the uncanny and eerie, as well as an antique veneer, a whiff of Britain’s pagan ancestry. The very obscurity and anonymity of folk music’s origins open up space for rampant imaginative fancies. The idea of folk still seems unstable, volatile: there’s an ongoing chemical reaction that hasn’t yet subsided.
So what does this have to do with Black Metal?
A bit of backstory…
I became obsessed with music, particularly making music, when i was 18. I had a number of religious/mystical experiences at Phish shows and raves and got it in my addled and fevered brain that i needed to do this with my life.
I was coming from a gothic/industrial/electronic background, initially inspired by the occult experiments of Coil and the nocturnal emissions of the first wave of Trip-Hop: Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack. On my 18th birthday, i received a rather sizable inheritance from losing my dad when i was a kid, and i invested in every piece of electronic gear that i could ever need. Samplers, sound modules, a massive Korg Triton synthesizer. I was ravenously devouring DIY tech magazines, teaching myself to be a musician, to be a producer.
Fast forward a bit, and the money’s all gone, due to zero life experience or practicality, and i was selling back all that beautiful kit, at half of what i paid for it. That broke my heart, and about killed me.
Fast forward a bit more, and i was living in another attic, in a Polish neighborhood in the Northwest side of Chicago. I was still broke and depressed; didn’t really know how to write songs or play instruments. I played bass but didn’t have an amp, and i didn’t have anybody to play with. Playing bass by yrself is boring, and frustrating.
I got my heads on a battered acoustic guitar and a tape recorder, and set about learning how to write and play music, for real.
And this is where the FOLK comes in.
I became interested in ‘old-timey’ music. I think i got into it, like many, with the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and quickly graduated to doomy Delta blues, like Robert Johnson and Skip James. I found comfort in the sweet country blues of Mississippi John Hurt and i found interest in the dense allusions of Bob Dylan. I was inspired by their technical prowess, and their inability to hide behind studio trickery. I began to embrace limitations, intimacy and honesty. Folk music strips music down to its raw, base elements, and you can build whatever kind of cathedral you like, out of these rough hewn stones.
Marissa Nadler strips her music back to the bare components of the human voice, fingers on the steel strings of a guitar, story and emotions, to conjure a timeless space, a feeling of regret and reminiscence. You get the feeling that Ms. Nadler is a spirit, inhabiting the basement on the cover of the record, telling her story, and of everybody she’s ever known.
Still, nostalgia’s a deadly trip, and i view total throwbacks and recreationists with suspicion. After stripping her music down to almost nothing, she rebuilds the edifice with care and craft, using every tool at her disposal.
And it is in the details, that July begins to take it’s place in this vortex. Marissa Nadler’s birdlike vocals and hypnotic fingerpicking are accompanied by some of the underground’s foremost visionaries, many of whom have shown up on these pages before. Production was handled by Randall Dunn, who has worked with Sunn O))), Earth, and Wolves In The Throne Room, and Steve Moore, of Zombi, (who was featured on one of the most recent editions of Horrorscores), provides religious organs and Aurora Borealis synthesizers on “Dead City Emily”, and Eyvind King provides gorgeous romantic strings on a number of tracks, setting the jewel of Nadler’s song in sterling silver classicism. July is classic, timeless (“Firecracker” could’ve been a Woody Guthrie song), but it is dipped in pitch black eternity, that sounds entirely contemporary.
The overall effect is hypnotic, lulling; the spell never breaks. She draws you into her world; a world of dead fields and endless highways, ghosts of the past retreating in the rearview.
The songwriting, the production, the performances are some of the finest in recent memory, no matter what genre you dig, there is something for you here to get lost in.
Fans of Chelsea Wolfe, Jesse Sykes, King Dude, Robert Johnson, Allison Krauss, Neko Case, Gillian Welch and Larkin Grimm, will lose their shit over this modern classic.
Best New Music isn’t good enough. It’s enough for me to start a series, so moved am i by the possibilities.
Listen on Spotify
Get yrself a copy: July