REVIEW: Marissa Nadler - "Marissa Nadler"

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Marissa Nadler - Marissa Nadler
Record Label: Box of Cedar Records
Release Date: June 14, 2011

Marissa Nadler's self-titled album, her 4th overall and first since 2009, seems like a solitary affair. It's eponymous, funded from Kickstarter coins (full disclosure: I helped fund and received my advance copy as a result of my backing), and out on her new label Box of Cedar Records. Then there's Nadler's whispery, etherial soprano which has the paradoxical effect of spinning you away from the world and drawing you into the speakers at the same time. However, by the end of the record, there's little that feels isolated except Nadler's prodigious talent showcased in a soundscape that is her own creation.

Nadler's songwriting takes an impressive turn on her self-titled effort. Our first taste, the melancholic single "Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning," mixed siren-sounding keys humming behind the closely-held dramatics. It's a paradigm that works (and reworks) itself over and over through the record. Opener "In Your Lair, Bear" begins with a cycling acoustic melody which is plods its way through the track while cymbals crescendo in the background until it plateaus as the other instruments work their way in almost 2 min into the track. It's a prescient moment as Nadler intones about coming out of hibernation, of emerging into the light and then it hits in the music.

For someone who has built their career on stunning dreamy vocals, in this record, Nadler lets the instrumental moments do the work. Keeping her soprano at bay, often, or at service of a narrative. What connects her to folk music isn't just the soundscape, but the commitment to the narrative service of music. The steamy "Alabaster Queen" is a perfect example where the emotive chorus spirals to the stratosphere because of the storytelling as much as because of the songwriting. There's an implicit tension between technique and sentiment that Nadler keeps the tight reins on, allowing a kind of dramatic that never feels forced. Neither the music nor the lyrics are at service of one another, but rather are woven together with bliss. The themes of nostalgia and remembrance reoccur without feeling trite or melodramatic largely because as a songwriter Nadler is at the apex of her craft, continually surprising her listeners with subtle musical changes that draw us forward into her illusory world.

Nadler's emergence onto the music scene couldn't have come at a better time. As Banhart's freak folk movement has slowly freaked itself out, artists like Nadler have had a built in audience that their work appeals to. And while style and substance walked hand in hand for Banhardt, for Nadler, the trappings of identity are the fodder for musical expression not outrageous outfits. Backed by a top-notch supporting cast, Nadler's able to create a first-rate record that refashions folk music for the world today. This is the stuff of music as dream and the listener as dreamer. Ambiguous and ambient, Marissa Nadler is indeed a singular creation and while it may be about loneliness, you'd never feel that way listening to it.


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