It’s dangerous business being the title character in a Marissa Nadler song. There’s Rachel growing ominously thin on 2007′s Songs III: Bird on the Water. Henry pressuring Lilly against her will on “Lily, Henry, and the Willow Trees” from 2010′s The Saga of Mayflower May. On her 2004 debut, there’s “Annabell Lee,” a song to a girl Edgar Allen Poe long ago laid to rest, and “Virginia,” a hymn to Virginia Woolf’s suicide.
That someone named Emily, from Nadler’s latest, is featured on a track called “Dead City Emily” should therefore be of no surprise. The song, built from spidery guitar and chilling synth, explores familiar ground for Nadler. But this time around, Nadler allows a pale ray of hope to warm the proceedings. Doubled vocals, tambourine, strings and a finger-picked guitar envelop the listener on “1923,” a generous plea for a lover to return. “Fireworks” is a memory delivered with charity. “I know better now, I don’t call you up at night,” she admits, “Baby, you’re a ghost and I have changed.” It’s an end without a hint of kiss-off. Her Emily may be stuck in a dead-end situation, but Nadler won’t let her plunge into desperation. “Any other man would have run, run away/ Emily, he’s something more.” Melancholy might have numbed her characters before, but Nadler grants them small moments of knowing, and it’s in these moments that July excels.