When Marissa Nadler delivered Strangers in 2016, she offered an evolution of the aesthetic that held sway on her previous six full-lengths. Produced by Randall Dunn, the album's sound was much fuller and atmospheric. The speaking voice in her songwriting also began to shift from first-person to a kind of storytelling that observed the inner lives of external characters. On For My Crimes she rebalances again. Co-produced with Lawrence Rothman and Justin Raisin, Nadler pares back her arrangements with a largely female cast: Strings by Janel Leppin, harp from Mary Lattimore, and bass by Eva Gardner. Angel Olsen, the Dum Dum Girls' Kristin Control, and Sharon Van Etten alternately provide backing vocals, and Hole drummer Patty Schemel guests on a track.
Nadler's songs alternate between first-person paeans to heartbreak and loss, and an even more finessed and focused external mode of storytelling that plumbs the depths of human experience. It's at work in the opening title track which details the thoughts and memories of a prisoner on death row who wishes not to be remembered for her misdeeds. It's stark and desolate as Olsen's voice underscores each syllable in the refrain and Leppin's strings paint the margins with a Gothic backdrop. Van Etten guests on "I Can't Listen to Gene Clark Anymore." As Leppin's gorgeous strings create a foundation, Nadler's strummed electric guitar lulls underneath as a melody that bears a whispered resemblance -- in places -- to Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." Her lyrics poetically detail the impossible consequences of a long distance romantic relationship. "Blue Vapor" is perhaps the set's finest entry. Playing electric guitar, bass pedals and Hammond B-3, Nadler is accompanied by Kontrol, Leppin, Schemel, and the only male present here, Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, in a brooding rocker that details both sides of a co-dependent relationship. The chanted refrain becomes a wheel hub for cellos, guitars, and snares to turn on, while her mezzo soprano, entwined with Kontrol's alto, create a gentle but anthemic chorus. Nadler reflects a more personal view on the harrowing "You're Only Harmless When You Sleep" ("Moonlight skies upon us/There's freeze over our sheets/I'm drawn by lust and lawlessness/You saw my death in a dream....") "Flamethrower" is a gauzy, all-too-brief folk song played in a duet with Leppin. Its lyric refers to incidents and scenes in Rachel Kushner's award-winning novel The Flamethrowers, but the lyrics and melody are delivered with Nadler's own claustrophobic sense of intimacy. While For My Crimes contains her unmistakable signature in both songwriting and sound, as a whole it point to an open door for new possibilities to emerge in the future. It's sophisticated and emotionally arresting, it's among the finest offerings in her catalog.