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Marissa Nadler

Having a musical kinship with JOSEPHINE FOSTER, ALELA DIANE, JOANNA NEWSOM and FAUN FABLES, folky singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist MARISSA NADLER (born April 5, 1981 in Washington DC) was not exactly a walk in the forest – as depicted on her debut album BALLADS OF LIVING AND DYING (2004) {*6}.
There was indeed a sense of foreboding on this record, a record that boasted timeless pieces of dreamy delights such as `Box Of Cedar’, `Stallions’ and `Days Of Rum’.
Also issued on the Eclipse imprint, THE SAGA OF MAYFLOWER MAY (2005) {*6} harked back to halcyon days of Brit-folk with a serving of Celtic-like narrative; she’s augmented by producer Brian McTear (on Hammond organ) and guest NICK CASTRO for the delicate `The Little Famous Song’. Intimate and otherworldly, Marissa delivers her lilting warbles on some great cuts like `Calico’, `Under An Old Umbrella’ and Mr. John Lee (Velveteen Rose)’.
2007 was a pivotal year for NADLER, a third album (her first for Kemado) SONGS III: BIRD ON THE WATER {*7} found her in good freak-folk company by way of ESPERS people Greg Weeks (on production and distorted guitar licks), Helena Espvall (cello), Otto Hauser (percussion) and ORION RIGEL DOMMISSE (mandolin and harp); playlist `Diamond Heart’, `Silvia’, `Mexican Summer’, `Feathers’ and a cover of LEONARD COHEN’s `Famous Blue Raincoat’; want more, find copies with the freebie EP that contains her take of NEIL YOUNG’s `Cortez The Killer’.
Having side-lined as the anonymous one in 2007 ensemble MOUNTAIN HOME (ditto for her subsequent in-choir appearance in 2010 on `Portal Of Sorrow’ by symphonic one-man metal act Xasthur), LITTLE HELLS (2009) {*8} surfaced as her next solo outing, a record that escaped from her folk roots grounding on a handful of tracks although one recommends `Ghosts & Lovers’, `Heartpaper Lover’ and `Mistress’.
Shocking to be an artist with no record deal having been dropped by Kemado, the eponymous and self-financed MARISSA NADLER (2011) {*7} was closer to Margo Timmins or Hope Sandoval than any Brit-folk/freak-folk comparison she’d been compared to in the past. With session people that included Carter Tanton (bass), Jim Callan (pedal steel), Ben McConnell (percussion) and DOMMISSE (synths), the whole approach of the set was languid and lo-fi, while highlights came through `Baby, I Will Leave You In The Morning’ (a proposed single), `Alabaster Queen’ and `Daisy, Where Did You Go?’.
Hypnotically haunting in her own inimitable style, subsequent mini-set companion piece, THE SISTER (2012) {*6}, the lamenting Marissa cemented her early promise on 8 cuts best described as restrained and intimate. Whisking the listener back to ghosts of the past: neo-Elizabethan by way of `Christine’, American gothic through `Constantine’, the lady in waiting painted a serene and stark portrait to complement her fragile textures.
For February 2014’s full-set proper, JULY {*7}, NADLER took one on a slow-moving road trip of autumnal balladry; the steely twangs of the country-tinged opener, `Drive (Fade Into)’, the searching, almost timeless `1923’ documenting heart-worn highways of grief as if languid emotion belonged to her, and to her alone. In lullaby-like proportions (pedal-steel again courtesy of Jason Kardong), `Firecrackers’ revisited her lover, the attacker, while the choirgirl in her excels in the heavenly, harmony-laden, `Was It A Dream’, `Desire’ and `Anyone Else’. Only time will tell if Marissa will be the next Joni, Janis or Josephine.
Adopting an altogether extrospective look from the view-point of 2016’s STRANGERS {*7}, the ominous Marissa opted to sing about surreal post-apocalyptic characters. A transcending and sonically soothing sojourn into a bleak, grey world, the sombre singer-songwriter only lavished presumably personal pining on `Katie I Know’, `Shadow Show Diane’ and the haunting `Janie In Love’, while the skies almost cried for mercy in the panoramic `Divers Of The Dust’, the acoustic lament `Skyscraper’ and the gothic groove of `Hungry Is The Ghost’.
Conjuring up all sorts of dust-bowl desolation, NADLER emerged from the House of Lux in Laurel Canyon with her seventh set, FOR MY CRIMES (2018) {*7}. Accompanied by an assortment of literate ladies: Eva Gardner (bass), Mary Lattimore (harp), Janel Leppin (cello/strings), Kristin Kontrol, SHARON VAN ETTEN and ANGEL OLSEN (on alternate backing vocals), there came harmony for Marissa’s morose mezzo soprano; further support came by way of ex-MORPHINE’s Dana Colley (on sax) and HOLE’s Patty Schemel (drums). Understandably, Marissa’s moribund mopes of harrowing heartbreak were not for everyone, however, repeat prescriptions on, especially, `You’re Only Harmless When You Sleep’, `Blue Vapor’, `Flamethrower’ and the name-checking, `I Can’t Listen To Gene Clark Anymore’, would no doubt bring its own rewards.
On the back of a single (`Poison’) that featured JOHN CALE, Marissa switched tact and an accomplice, CAVE IN’s Stephen Brodsky (aka Mutoid Man), to allow her the widescreen scope to push the envelope out under the dreamscape of DRONEFLOWER (2019) {*7}. The set was recorded a few years back. As in the title of the album’s ethereal opening piece, `Estranged’ (clocking in at 7 minutes), this was certainly the lady’s most disconcerting record of all time. One could almost compare her desultory “drone” as akin to PJ HARVEY’s recent soundtrack work, or that of the aforesaid queen of gothic-folk, JOSEPHINE FOSTER. It was easy to understand that the canny collaboration was intended for a horror movie score; primeval pointers clearly apparent on the sparse and piano-led `Space Ghost I’ (and `II’), plus the choppy riff-tastic high spot, `For The Sun’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Feb2014-Jun2019

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