Marissa Nadler’s incredible seventh album, Strangers, is one of our favorites of the year so far. We’re selling it in our store this month, but that wasn’t enough to show our appreciation: We had Marissa send us a list of the 9 albums that are her biggest inspirations.
1. Patti Smith: Horses
Patti is a major inspiration for me and she has always been refreshingly untethered to convention. She is a force of power and this record sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out in 1975. One of the reasons for this album’s timelessness is Patti’s fierce and beautiful command over the English language. I’ve included a snippet of one of my favorite lyrics from “Land” below.
One of the other amazing things about this album is its musical range. The song “Free Money” perfectly encapsulates her ability to build a song from a gorgeous and delicate ballad to a full-on rocker in the span of a few minutes.
“And I looked at Johnny and handed him a branch of cold flame (in the heart of man)
The waves were coming in like Arabian stallions
Gradually lapping into sea horses
He picked up the blade and he pressed it against his smooth throat
And let it deep in
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening in my hand
And I felt the arrows of desire”
## 2. Nina Simone: Nina Sings The Blues
My favorite tracks off of this album are “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Since I Fell For You” and “In The Dark.”
I discovered Nina Simone in high school. I went to the now defunct record store in my home -own and got a few of her cassette tapes, including Nina Sings The Blues. I was actually led to her by the movie Point Of No Return, where Bridget Fonda’s character is obsessed with her. I was floored and so thankful I had been led to her music. Nina is another strong and inspirational woman who lived her life as a trailblazer, breaking down every boundary that came her way. Her voice is earthy and womanly and something eternally soothing and moving.
3. Joni Mitchell: Hejira
Joni Mitchell’s Blue is an album that is on many people’s top 10 lists, for good reason, so I thought that I would cite another one of her albums that has been deeply affecting to me. Hejira (an Arabic word that means journey) is a desolate and expansive record that finds Joni at the pinnacle of her powers. I recently discovered that Joni wrote this album on a car trip across the United States and was inspired by several love affairs that she had along the way. Listening to this record is akin to looking out one long train window on an endless journey across America. Jaco Pastorius’ wandering and freeform bass-lines add to the feeling of serpentine highways and endless drifting towns.
I would recommend Ladies Of The Canyon, Clouds, Blue, For The Roses, Court and Spark, and Hejira for those who are new to Joni Mitchell. The innocent and occasionally idealistic leanings of Clouds and Ladies Of The Canyon slowly evolve to disenchantment and finely wrought realist observation on both Court and Spark and Hejira. My favorite song on Hejira is “Amelia,” where Joni writes:
“I was driving across the burning dessert, and I spotted six jet planes, leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain. It was the hexagram of the heavens, it was the strings of my guitar, Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”
In her own words: “I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me.”
4. Leonard Cohen: Songs from A Room
I’m a die-hard Leonard Cohen fan so I could put any of his albums on this list. Not too many people can beat the one-time Poet Laureate of Canada in the lyric department. This album is particularly sonically spare and leaves space for his poetry to shine. His classical fingerpicked guitar is the perfect accompaniment, save for the jaw-harp warbling here and there on a few songs and some other tasteful tinges of color.
“Seems So Long Ago Nancy” has been one of my favorite songs, period, for years. It’s my go to on this album, though it’s a great listen from start to finish.
From “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy”:
“And now you look around you, see her everywhere,
many use her body,
many comb her hair.
In the hollow of the night
when you are cold and numb
you hear her talking freely then,
she’s happy that you’ve come,
she’s happy that you’ve come.”
5. Catherine Riberio & Alpes: Paix
“Jusqu’à Ce Que La Force Me Manqué” is my favorite song from this album. Catherine Ribeiro is a French experimental and avant-garde singer. She reminds me of Edith Piaf in the way that her voice is a conduit for pain and sorrow. This is an entrancing psychedelic journey and one hell of a vocal performance. I’ve been reading a bit about her biography as she remains a bit of a mystery to me. She had a troubled childhood and was in and out of asylums while growing up in war-torn France, though she is of Portuguese descent. I think part of why I like her is that she’s able to take her troubles and madness and directly translate it raw sonic power. These songs are at once both terrifying and beautiful.
6. Paris Texas Movie Soundtrack
This is Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to the Wim Wenders film of the same name. It’s amazing how a simple lonely slide steel-guitar melody can evoke an entire country, and an entire lifetime of memories. This album, recorded in 1970, works as a soundtrack wonderfully, but stands on its own, at least for me.
7. Julee Cruise: Floating Into The Night
This perfect collaboration between Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch is a timeless and haunting album. It draws on ‘50s and ‘60s girl group aesthetics but with a sinister and crooked edge. “Falling” and “Rockin’ back inside my heart” were both used in the Twin Peaks soundtrack, so many people may be familiar with those songs. But, Floating Into The Night as a whole record is impeccable and great for nighttime.
8. Elliot Smith: Either/Or
This is probably my favorite Elliott Smith album. “2:45” … my go to.
It still retains some of the lo-fi fuzz that made me fall in love with Elliott’s music in the first place, but these songs… one after the other, are fully realized and deeply affecting.
9. Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
Favorite track: “Caroline, No,” which is up there with one of my favorite songs of all time. Much has been written about this album so I have nothing more to add to the conversation other than being one of the many people who cite it as a major inspiration and influence.