Release Date: Jun 14, 2011
Record label: Box of Cedar
Genre(s): Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Marissa Nadler singing the word “radio” may be one of the music events of the year. On “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You,” a standout from her self-titled fifth album, she splits those three syllables in a way that makes the word sound startlingly new: something like “ray-adee-ohhhh,” although that transcription doesn’t come close to doing justice to her phrasing. She sings each long vowel sound with the slightest hesitation, placing the sound just behind the beat to the give the word and the song a singsong lilt.
"Puppet Master", the sixth song on the new album by Marissa Nadler, opens as a lonely country shuffle. Over a muted beat and a quiet circular guitar line, Nadler again pines for a lover who's left, something she's done about as well as any young American songwriter during the last decade. "Cobalt and sea, come back to me," she sings, her loneliness delivered like a ghost's whisper.
Despite having four consistently excellent albums of melancholic folk music under her belt, as well as her fair share of critical plaudits, Marissa Nadler remains largely unknown, and as a result found herself without a record contract and having to resort to crowdfunding for album number five. On the positive side, without the influence of a record label, Nadler has claimed that the process allowed her to finally make the album that she's always wanted to, which she's decided to celebrate by bestowing it with the eponymous title. Look up Nadler on the web and odds are you'll encounter the same descriptions – dreamy, elegiac, dark – over and over again, and, to be honest, this review's not going to be any different, as what's instantly striking about Nadler's music is that it uses a beautiful and calm exterior to conceal a very dark heart.
Marissa Nadler‘s first record, 2004’s Ballads of Living and Dying, could describe all of her work, since she strives to capture the finer details of distress while keeping central the idea that to truly live is to daily die. Nadler’s work has mainly surveyed struggle, sometimes her own, as on “Diamond Heart”, or others, like Virginia Woolf’s on “Virginia”, and her very unique voice is well-placed to search out the nooks of the shattered human spirit. There is an air of melancholy that cloaks her work, from The Saga of Mayflower May (2005) to Songs III: Bird on the Water (2007) to Little Hells (2009), and her self-titled record is no exception.
Singer/songwriter Marissa Nadler found herself in an unenviable position in 2010. After releasing the celebrated Little Hells in 2009, she was dropped by her label. As an indie artist, Nadler turned to a Kickstarter campaign to fund this album. Issued on her Box of Cedar imprint, and produced with great care and restraint by Brian McTear, Marissa Nadler is, ironically, her lushest, warmest, most sophisticated offering yet, with its lyric and melodic concerns honed to a stiletto's edge.
Over her previous four albums, Marissa Nadler has proven herself one of the most promising and compelling singer-songwriters out there. Her albums have all mined a similar, ghostly brand of folk: the kind of sound that might evoke images of mist yawning off the grass on a cold morning. Sometimes her devotion to the tradition has masked her own feeling, and as hauntingly beautiful as her voice is, there were times on earlier records where it sounded more like a beauty to hide behind than one to convey her deepest emotions.
Calling from under sodden layers of USBM, bolstering the bracing wail of Scott Connor, a.k.a. Malefic, on 2010’s Call from the Grave, the last and worst Xasthur record, Marissa Nadler sounded like a woman lost. It wasn’t necessarily that she seemed out of place — in fact, her voice possesses an amaranthine power that feels like it might be entirely familiar with mithril or smoldering church ruins — but more that it felt like a base misapplication of her abilities, the effects neutralizing her voice to the extent that she could’ve been practically any wandering broad.
It’s almost strange to hear the gloom lift on Marissa Nadler’s eponymous new album, as her usual warbling, ominous digressions on loss and death give way to something approaching hope. In this sense, her first effort on her own label (itself named after a song on her 2004 album Songs of Living and Dying), can also be seen as a sort of rebirth, with a concerted shift in the direction of Nadler’s songwriting. Nadler’s primary asset has always been her voice.
Does music necessarily need to boldly make a point to be worthy of merit? A friend and I once had a debate about whether, to truly be considered art, a piece of music, painting or sculpture must specifically make a statement. He agreed with this point; I vehemently didn’t. Of course, it is necessary to have items of culture that push buttons, pull levers and propel platforms upwards to some higher plane.
The last track on Marissa Nadler’s self-titled album is written from the perspective of Violet Hilton in the hours between the death of her conjoined twin, Daisy, and her own. The twins, who died within a few days of one another in 1962, were joined at the lower spine and shared blood circulation but no organs—they were, as the title of a 1954 film they starred in suggested, “chained for life. ” And chained for death, as Nadler points out in “Daisy, Where Did You Go?” It makes sense that Nadler would devote a song to the twins, as much of her album belies a fascination with the hauntingly intriguing, the tragic and the departed.