Photos: Jon Klemm
While Marissa Nadler‘s new album, Little Hells, didn’t quite make the cut for “Best New Music” the other day, it did receive an overwhelmingly positive review from critic Grayson Currin and scored impressive 8.3 on Pitchfork scale.
At last, Little Hells moves Nadler well beyond easy categories, thanks to a newfound clarity in her words, a compelling link between her songs, and production that sharpens her old strengths wheile brightly exposing new ones. Sonically, her reach is wider and more assured. On “Mary Come Alive”, circular drumming, gauzed vocals, and synthetic harmonium suggest the unlikely union of Cocteau Twins and Swans. Meanwhile, “Loner” stacks organ sustains and submerges them beneath Nadler’s strum and half-hummed coo. It’s like Grouper coming back down the Hill or Valet emerging from the Acid, but more memorable and accessible than both.
But the LP’s highlight is still the four-song core that recalls vintage Nadler– now played, captured, edited, and arranged better than in the past. Her only solo turn here, “Brittle, Crushed & Torn”, is crisp and concise, the presentation revealing the strength of the melodies in her bass-heavy picking and the wispy vocals above. “The Whole Is Wide” uses only that voice and Dave Scher’s staccato piano march; the simplicity helps the album’s most lyrically complex song translate off the page as Nadler intertwines the stories of two women, Sylvia and Laila, who waste their life away in the absence of a man. Nadler swaps first- and third-person pronouns and twists verb tenses, building tension by suggesting that they’re both dead or at least headed that way. That time-and-person slipstream is what binds the 10 tracks of Little Hells so well. Nadler mixes images of individuals in various stages of love and loss, often pairing them with imagery of death, decay, and rebirth. [Pitchfork.com]
Marissa Nadler at Joe’s Pub Set List (03/04/09)
Diamond Heart (solo)
Little Hells (solo)
Salutations In The Dark (solo)
? (possibly “Ati Ati”)
The Hole Is Wide (standout)
Ghosts and Lovers
River of Dirt (great)
I’m On Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Dead Wives Club (on banjo)