If you’ve not heard a Marissa Nadler record before, the first thing that will strike you is her voice. She sings mostly in a particularly high register, which lulls you into thinking of her voice as delicate, even frail. Listen closer though, and you begin to realise the strength, power and range of her vocals, which have lent her songs an understated, but still emotionally hefty, punch for four particularly strong albums now.
In fact, with the release of her new, self-titled LP, Marissa Nadler has, in a typically quiet fashion, sidestepped a number of other preconceptions. Whereas on previous releases, her songs were presented very much as self-contained narratives, with Nadler explicitly adopting the voices of particular characters, this album includes her most direct – and, you sense, personal – material yet. Funded entirely by fans through the Kickstarter project and released on her own label, Marissa Nadler is the sound of an artist standing head and shoulders above a pretty congested crowd of singer-songwriters.
Marissa Nadler strips away many of the myths that had served to obscure the notoriously shy singer – something that arose from people reading the meanings and stories of her rather gothic songs back on to her, you imagine. This kind of myth making certainly has its advantages, but the quality of the material here speaks for itself. While she hasn’t exactly embraced electronica or another drastic change of sound, the songs that emerge here are touched with elements of country, folk and even classic rock, while retaining a depth and melancholy all of Nadler’s own.
Two songs immediately stand out, due in part to their melodies but also because they immediately sound like lost standards – as if they’re forgotten favourites from a classic radio station in a parallel universe. There’s ‘The Sun Always Reminds Me Of You’, with lilting country guitar and Nadler lamenting that “there ain’t nothing but love songs on the radio”. Never has a sunny day sounded so beautifully miserable. Then there’s ‘Baby, I Will Leave You In The Morning’, which could almost be a sequel to Little Hell’s devastating closer ‘Mistress’ – again, it has Nadler embracing traditional song forms but weaving in her own powerful, succinct style of story telling and wonderfully judged delivery. Somewhere here, there’s the bittersweet glory of spiralling down to the very depths at the end of a relationship.
Elsewhere, the other songs reveal themselves as equally as powerful over time. ‘Wind Up Doll’ builds the ghosts of a tale of regret out of Nadler’s multi-tracked vocals, a picked guitar and the slightest percussive shuffle. Opener ‘In Your Lair, Bear’ builds from similarly minimal beginning to a lush flourish, with fantastically evocative lyrics: “That old familiar fear creeps up your little arms/And runs through your veins like blood through your songs”. Even at its lowest, the album manages to retain a beauty that means it never becomes maudlin – ‘Wedding’ in fact verges on the funereal but manages to sound uncomfortably heavenly.
So, in opening up her songs – these are her most expansive, melodically rich and immediate compositions yet – Marissa Nadler has sacrificed none of her lyrical depth or sense of ambiguity. I’ve tried to avoid comparisons here as this record is of such quality that Nadler deserves to be listened to on her own terms. Quietly moving and richly produced, Marissa Nadler may well be this artist’s strongest and most personal statement so far.