Marissa Nadler’s fifth self-titled album, and the first released on her own label Box of Cedar, is an evocative, layered aural world. Recorded with the help of producer Brian McTear in Philadelphia’s Miner Street Studio it is a step ahead in many ways, deftly balancing the mystery of her musical world, so often described as dream-folk, with a weighted frankness. It is a record which Nadler calls “the most honest, natural record I’ve ever written[…]the mystery still exists in the music as an aesthetic tool, but the songs cut harder because of the vocal mix, with more varied colours than my other records.”
Certainly her vocals are starker and more sure fifth time around, shedding their gauzy overly textured qualities that are so characteristic of her older work. Too her song structures, centering on circular guitars produces a whirlpool effect of sound that hypnotises when coupled with her eerily ethereal vocals; ghostly and so close. It is this quality of her songs; often having no definable beginning or end, which makes them all the easier to get lost within.
From opening track ‘In Your Lair, Bear’, gently finger plucked guitar bleeds into swirling, murmuring cello bows and thick percussion creating a heady dreamlike world, and while her lyrics throughout this eponymous are far more literal (“last time i saw you bringing firewood into your house…but i didnt love you quite as much as sweet marie”) she does not shed her gothic tinged and fairytale-esque storytelling qualities. In losing some of their shrouded mystery of words, metaphor and allegory they are never stripped bare of meaning, this time remaining clothed in a human, often devastating poignancy.
In what is in many places a painfully frank detailing of lost love there are flashes of positivity: ‘The Sun Always Reminds Me of You’ is a somewhat cathartic reminiscence, and with its country twinged pedal steel it finds itself the most uptempo of the album’s songs. While ‘Baby, I Will Leave You’ sucks us back into that dark vortex as it hinges more so on the psychedelic; perhaps seeing some of the influence of Xasthur’s work, for whom Nadler offered up vocals on their Portal of Sorrow recording.
Not too long a wait then after 2009’s Little Hells and Nadler is still treading the freak-folk path. Her music is always definable: that layered ghostly annunciation of her words lost in a cloud of so subtly crafted instrumental layering, and yet this time around she breathes a bit more life in, pushing the ghosts out. A beautifully haunting return.
Review by Melanie McGovern