• By: Owen Maxwell

Album Reviews: Nao, Brandi Carlile, Marissa Nadler

Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days (Ravensdale, WA)

With an ability to harness the magic of raw emotion, Brandi Carlile’s latest record serves as a record that constantly veers between intimate and explosive. Topped off with the sheer magnitude of her voice, Carlile delivers a record that feels devastating and fleshed out on a sonic level. “Right on Time” keeps a powerful tempered approach in its quietness, and lets you feel the full weight of its entire story as the whole swath of instruments joins Carlile in her belt-out moments. With Lucius providing amazing harmonies and charming melodic hints, “You and Me on the Rock” feels like a wonderful countryside pop song, pulling from 70s influence in just the right way to feel like it’s own beautiful reflection of a very specific song tradition. There’s unrelenting country-rock glory on “Broken Horses” as a whole flurry of guitar lines just fly out with Carlile’s voice constantly pushing them even further. The lyrical charm of “Mama Werewolf” only stands to underscore its brilliant hooks, as the track lures us in and leaves us piecing together the story of a ballad for the ages.

Kevin Breit & Hawksley Workman – Breit Workman  (Toronto)

Together the two class-acts of Kevin Breit & Hawksley Workman find a great synergy to riff and just jam out great music, albeit ones particularly best for fans of either. The slow-rolling fire of “Corvair Blues” feels classic yet experimental, seeing the project leaping into the void of their imaginations. There’s a jazzy and lost-in-space feeling to “Father Robot” with the arrangements feeling like an acoustic simulation of sci-fi machinery powering down. “There’s Always the War” elicits images of fire and gunfire at every turn, with the rollicking drums ramping up tension until you’re ready to run. The grime in the bones of “Commando Salvation” is a much more violent-sounding track, and the back and forth between the horns and guitars is a fun clash to follow the whole way through.

Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds (Washington, D.C.)

Marissa Nadler is a true ruler of the mood-heavy craft, and her latest record explores that with a knife-like precision. With a whole cast of great collaborators in tow, Nadler brings a second release to 2021 that doesn’t lose any focus given how quickly it’s come out. The immense dark mood of “Bessie, Did You Make It?” is almost unbearable in how dense it makes that feeling, but it shows a mastery of timbre and pathos that Nadler brings to her writing both in words and arrangements. There’s a subtle cool to Nadler’s energy on “Couldn’t Have Done the Killing” that keeps you on edge, and the guitar lines leave it with a very modern Bond-theme style of sound. “Storm” rises with a sense of space in its sound that lets the slow, and brooding movement of the track really sink its teeth in without feeling like its too drawn out. There’s both a grime and brilliance in the contributions that Emma Ruth Rundle brings on Turned Into Air,” seeing both artists merging their ominous aesthetics into a truly fierce and slow-burn of a song.

Simon and the Island Muse (Single) (Kawartha Lakes, Ontario)

Breaking from their work in the Strumbellas, Simon Ward’s solo effort feels like a much more broad affair for his particular stylings. “Muse” sees the songwriter harnessing his writing into a hook-heavy power-ballad fuel. The track is full of love, offering the same support Ward clearly derives from his very subject here. The colour of the arrangements reflects the scope of this kind of inspiration and love, as Ward is clearly pulling a lot from this person. And the way he makes every string and part of his own harmonies boom out in every chorus like a heavenly shout amplifies the depths to which this person has changed his life and in turn he’s ready to bring that right back.

Nao And Then Life Was Beautiful (Nottingham, U.K.)

As she finds a crossroads of psychedelia and groove-driven productions, Nao crafts mystifying listens over and over. With harmonies, neon guitars, and amazing bass hooks dancing all over this record, it’s a true revelation to check this one out. “And Then Life Was Beautiful” is constantly bursting with a new piece of the puzzle, letting all its rushing low-end and guitar effects dazzle the ears. The dance swing to “Antidote” is drenched in all the rich vocals the song breaks out, and Nao finds a soft spot in its verses to really be vulnerable with listeners. “Burn Out” similarly uses its dreamy tones to make every drum drop feel more punchy and inspiring, and play to Nao’s debate about going all out or letting yourself breathe. The crisp chorus pull of “Good Luck” lets its sheer pop power land with a satisfying grip, and Lucky Daye fits perfectly in Nao’s sound to make a collaboration that is seamless.