Dusted Reviews

Marissa Nadler - Little Hells

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Marissa Nadler

Album: Little Hells

Label: Kemado

Review date: Feb. 24, 2009

There remains in some circles an oft-cited misconception that happy people don’t often make good art. Birthed with reference to the tumultuous psyches of figures like Van Gogh, the hypothesis isn’t without its arguments (had Kafka been a carefree guy, it’s safe to say his writing might’ve been a tad less compelling), but it seems a tad presumptuous to go too far in correlating artistic output with psychological wellbeing. So what of Marissa Nadler, contemporary folkstress? Nadler’s always been a songwriter and performer of emotional heft, but 2007’s Songs III: Bird on the Water was packed with a markedly haunting pathos, musing on death, sadness and mourning with an elegiac beauty. On Little Hells, Nadler’s latest effort, the tone isn’t always so somber, but the disc is hardly sunnier than its predecessor. By all accounts, Nadler’s not a gloomy person, she’s simply someone adept at getting in touch with life’s darker side, and an artist skillful enough to make exceedingly palpable the emotion with which she imbues her work.

Little Hells may not deviate much tonally from Songs III, but the execution and arrangement of Nadler’s compositions is where this disc makes a departure. "Rosary" and "Mistress" feature steady percussion amidst the ether, and Nadler’s folk is garnished with a ghostly country vibe on more than one occasion. By and large, these are welcome additions to Nadler’s sound; though she’s an adroit guitar player, the augmentation of Nadler’s acoustic with a broader timbral palette is often a boon to her music’s striking atmosphere.

Nadler has used synthesizers in the past for understated, if effective, accompaniment, a more evident manifestation of the spectral flavor her music often contains. Little Hells features more of the same, but the way she employs the instrument couldn’t be more different. "Mary Comes Alive" is the album’s real surprise, opening with a drum machine rhythm straight out of 1985, and developing into a synthesizer-heavy, full-band performance far more reminiscent of a band like Echo and the Bunnymen than the folk tradition to which Nadler is often linked. It’s a gutsy move, a slice of stylistic dissonance. The disc’s title track eases back into more familiar territory, and while "Mary Comes Alive" may not be one of the album’s better tracks, it’s one of the more memorable.

Like those of the Greek sirens, Nadler’s sonorous voice often leads its admirer to dark places. Little Hells brings little risk of shipwreck, but her rich vocals can be bewitching nonetheless, and no matter the instrumental additions or stylistic explorations this new album might bring, at its center is Nadler and her acoustic guitar, an enticing pairing, to be sure. Little Hells, for all its melancholy, gives Nadler’s fans another reason to celebrate; any continuation of the momentum birthed with Songs III is a happy thing, indeed.

By Adam Strohm

Other Reviews of Marissa Nadler

Ballads of Living and Dying

The Saga of Mayflower May

Songs III: Bird on the Water

Marissa Nadler

The Sister

Read More

View all articles by Adam Strohm

Find out more about Kemado

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.