by Joey Molloy
A collaboration record from Marissa Nadler and Stephen Brodsky is, on its face, an unlikely collision of musical worlds. Nadler rose to relevance in the mid 2010’s with a slew of ethereal, gothic folk records; whereas, Brodsky is a legend in hardcore punk and metal circles for his trailblazing work in the late 90’s with Cave In and Old Man Gloom. Any overlap between the two would seem a bit odd, until looking a little deeper. Nadler’s breakthrough record July was produced by Randall Dunn, who has engineered metal titans like Wolves in the Throne Room, Earth, and the almighty Sunn O))). She is also signed to the famously eccentric label—Sacred Bones. Beyond the metalcore and doom, Brodsky also has a wealth of subdued solo work. Suddenly, Droneflower feels less like an anomaly and more like an organic collaboration between two prolific sound searchers.
It’s interesting Droneflower comes as a spring album. The music it contains sounds more like the soundtrack to driving down a lonesome highway during the coldest, gloomiest period of winter. The songs, firmly grounded in the world of folk, swirl like a snowfall with lush layers of vocal harmony, synthesizer, reverb-washed piano, and—as the name of record implies—droning guitars. With this abundance of instrumentation in the mix, Nadler & Brodsky carefully walk the line between minimal “less is more” moments and over the top layers of dreamy immersion. Though, what comes with so much emphasis on atmosphere, is a challenge to differentiate and pick out highlight cuts.
Surprisingly, if there is one song off this album that stands out in terms of quality it is the cover of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Estranged.” The monstrous GNR ballad is elevated to transcendent heights as the duo’s version slowly grows into a droning masterpiece. Starting off sparse with just acoustic guitar and vocals, then finishes out full of feedback and fuzzy synths. Axl Rose’s lyrics are given the weight of a great poet thanks to Nadler’s angelic reinterpretation of the hook, “Nobody ever told you baby/how it was gonna be/What’ll happen to you baby?/Guess we’ll have to wait and see.” Another track to note is “For the Sun”, which features a chugging guitar line that seems to have Brodsky’s fingers all over it.
Across the board, it is Nadler’s icy croon that steals the show. Her vocals range from hushed, whispered bits to epic, opera-esque moments. Thus, the record comes across as a display of mastered dynamics and mood, not songwriting chops. Brodsky’s ominous experimental flourishes effortlessly contribute to the dark mood. Ultimately, Droneflower is a curious little exploration of sounds that is worth giving a try. It’s an album that won’t be on many end-of-the-year lists, but that’s certainly not what Nadler & Brodsky set out to do. The record is simply a sincere collaboration that presents enough intriguing ideas to placate.