A lot has changed for Chan Marshall since her last record, 2012’s Sun. That album was her attempt to make a hit, apparently on the auspices of her label, but today, the shock electronica sound of that record is gone from her work. Her peroxide crop has grown out; she’s parted ways with said label, Matador, and become a mother. Rather than searching for hits, Wanderer, her first record in six years, is a tender, mature 38 minutes that foregrounds Marshall’s exquisite, soulful vocals and gripping way with a sparse arrangement.
Many of the 11 songs here, such as Black and the Lana Del Rey-featuring Woman, have a chanson feel, a new relaxed swing perhaps inspired by Marshall’s relatively contented life in Miami. As with all Cat Power LPs, though, there is darkness here: You Get could have appeared on the fractured You Are Free, from 2003, while Horizon is an autumnal piano ballad with Marshall’s voice echoed, slightly disturbingly, by an Auto-Tune doppelganger.
The title track opens the album, and another, longer version closes it, with Marshall paying tribute to a deceased friend through a cavernous, reverby vocal, distant brass and a gospel feel: “With heart, wild heart, you would sing to me… Oh wanderer, I’ll be wondering.” Bookending the album like this certainly makes it feel more coherent than it otherwise might, stringing a thread through the likes of the lo-fi spaghetti Western shuffle of Robbin Hood, the Hispanic sway of Me Voy and her piano version of Rihanna’s Stay – disparate styles, now presented in some kind of lucid order.
Chan Marshall, then, is older, wiser and back to a hushed style that, unlike Sun, feels perfectly natural for her – as stylish, as classic and as ominous as the blackest velvet.