Review Summary: i wouldn't know that there ain't nothing but love songs on the radio
Marissa Nadler has been something of an under-appreciated wonder. For the past decade, she has been turning out beautiful, eerie folk tunes and it seems to this fan that not enough people have latched on. True, her songs might not be everyone’s cup of tea – reverb-drenched vocals, spooky bells, and spacey slide-guitars have adorned her music since the beginning, along with some other perhaps offsetting elements. This is a shame, then, because Nadler’s songs are some of the best modern folk songs around. Hopefully, her audience grows exponentially with the release of this, her fifth album.
is an album full of the same type of music she’s been creating for years, though it feels a little fresher, sprightlier. Yes, she still focuses on melancholy and the pain caused by ruptured relationships, but she seems to be progressing. Her slight breakout album, Songs III: Bird on the Water
has her best record to date upon its release, and then her fouth, Little Hells
completely trumped it. Its songs had more meat on their bones, and the sound quality was superb. She wrote about similar topics, and even still continued the tale of her misfortunate imaginary heroine Silvia. It just sounded better, newer. That is how this, her self-titled record, sounds. It fits right into her catalogue, while simultaneously outdoing what she’s done before it.
Every song has an acoustic guitar base, usually provided by Nadler herself. She is not a virtuoso, sometimes opting for simple, pretty chords (“Alabaster Queen”), but her limitations never get in the way. She knows her way around a good melody. On the quietest, most solo-sounding songs, she sounds as lonely and gorgeous as ever. Songs like “Wind Up Doll” and “Little King” would not have really been too out of place on her past records, but they do fit right in here. On the other side of the coin, the more full-band stylings of singles “The Sun Always Reminds Me Of You” and “Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning” give Nadler a grander setting for her emotive blood-letting. The former sounds like a classic, country-tinged folk-rock song, and feels intriguingly timeless. The latter is a spooky song, which is really just a 4-minute crescendo that proves she is truthfully a force to be reckoned with, under her siren-like veneer. There are even some whirring synths in the last half, which add an even scarier side to an already chilly song.
There truly are no bad songs on here, and in fact some of these rank among her very best. “In Your Lair, Bear” is a 6-minute slice of pure musical heaven, and “Mr. John Lee Revisited” takes a look back at one of her earliest characters, and it contains what is probably the most entrancing melody on the record. The album ends a bit awkwardly with the completely-solo “Daisy, Where Did You Go?”, but that is classic Nadler. She likes loose ends, leaving things just a bit untidy. If she wrapped everything up in a nice box, her music would lose part of its heart. This album is full of that heart, and even though I might not be able to discern all the meanings, it is obvious this is her most personal. Yes, the melancholy is still here, the reverb is still here (albeit in lesser amounts, letting her stunning voice really shine), and the music is still folky and eerie. But this is a superbly talented artist, and she does what she does so well, so in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Let her do what she wants, and she will do great things.
Key Tracks: In Your Lair, Bear | Mr John Lee Revisited | Puppet Master