Marissa Nadler - "Baby, I Will Leave You In The Morning" (Marissa Nadler)
The morning after the hurricane, sunlight streams down on stagnant pools of mud, dapples through the branches of broken, 100-year-old trees, glistens on gravel-strewn, washed out stretches of road. Marissa Nadler, meanwhile, sings on the headphones, scattering the same brilliance on a different, more human kind of ruin, her voice alternatingly piercing and dusky soft as it traverses storm-wracked emotional territories. It takes a minute, given the extreme prettiness of the melody, to recognize that Nadler is, on the opening “In Your Lair, Bear,” singing about a hurricane in someone’s veins in the sweetest, most placating tones of the folk singer’s handbook. How appropriate, you think, as you step over a mess of blown-down sticks and leaves, that when the storm finally breaks, Nadler would be there to sing it down softly, folding it like velvet into a memory chest.
Nadler’s fifth full-length, the first on her own Box of Cedar label, came out in June, before Irene was even a swirl in the Caribbean tide, so perhaps it’s not fair to conflate her with the weekend’s rough weather. Yet, there is something consoling about her voice, which is better behaved than Nina Nastasia’s, more reticent and ladylike than Scout Niblett’s, far more sane and studied than Larkin Grimm’s, but still well acquainted with the roughness of the world. There’s a softness where the edge might be, a slippery slide where sharpness might set in, a pretty trill to ease the parts that might be desolate otherwise. Nadler promises, “I’ll be your alabaster queen,” in the song of the same name, and she does indeed have some of the chilly reserve of an altar Mary, frozen mid-gesture in an act of compassion. Even in a blues-tinged love song such as “Why Does the Sun Always Remind Me Of You?” she rises in clean luminosity out of the murk of twanging steel guitar, disembodied and untouchable.
Nadler recorded the album with Brian McTear, who has overseen sessions for most of Philadelphia’s alternative folkers, a couple of whom – Orion Rigel Dommisse and Helena Espvall – make cameos on this record. Yet, while Nadler clearly has ties to the new weird America contingent, she also works in a pop idiom. The single, “Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning,” sways narcoticly, not a touch of country in its dream pop contours. Here, Nadler evokes Hope Sandoval’s soft-focus heartache, or even Julee Cruise’s surreal wispiness. Elsewhere, touches of Americana slip in — the countrified shuffle of “Puppet Master,” the folky guitar-picked fluency of “Daisy, Where Did You Go?” — but this is not really a folk album in any traditional sense.
The main problem is that the songs are so quietly pretty that they slip by without friction, so that you’re halfway through the album before you’ve registered a shift in mood or tempo. Listen in the wrong mood, and this album can fade into tedium, its fey lullabies barely penetrating as they pluck, murmur and trill on. Better save it for the aftermath of some terrible storm, whether in your head or outside in the world, when it glints like the solace of sunshine on wreckage.