[not actual artwork]
Due out on March 2nd through New York-based label Kemado Records, Marissa Nadler’s Little Hells follows the delicate and harrowing Songs III: Bird On The Water, her breakthrough album and easily one of the best records of 2007. This time round the lyrics remain as sad and as sublime as ever, although the involvement of producer Chris Coady (TV On The Radio, Gang Gang Dance), Blonde Redhead drummer Simone Pace and lap-steel pro ‘Farmer’ Dave Scher (formerly of Beachwood Sparks), as well as good friend and frequent collaborator Myles Baer, ensures that Nadler’s fourth record sets out in an interesting direction that’s both new and old. Here’s our track-by-track preview. A full review of Little Hells will be published next month.
Lost romantics float on rippling spacey electronic piano that cuts a chunk out of the atmosphere and replaces it with haze and heavy sorrow, and of course that voice. Not much of the band here, this feels strangely familiar and achingly plaintive despite the electronic vibe.
This begins with the feel of a meditative traditional country ballad but soon ascends to an almost erotic level. You get the feeling she might be wearing only her beads and lace, aching from more than just Catholic melancholy.
Easily one of the best songs of Marissa’s career so far, this is the first moment on Little Hells where you really sit up and think, “She has a band!” What builds to an almost alt-’80s retro sound opens with a snare drum that was such a surprise I thought I had accidentally skipped to Kate Bush’s ‘Sat In Your Lap’. Marissa’s voice feels lighter and less isolated and, when combined with the synths, creates a strange and thrilling ride.
An uplifting and ethereal warning to those who remain defined by once belonging to ‘somebody else’. Straightforward and rather striking.
If you have been to see Marissa live in the last year it’s likely you will have heard this one already, and on record it is just as chilling. There are times when the subject matter becomes so dark and supernatural you forget you are listening to a Marissa record and feel as though you’ve landed in the pages of Wuthering Heights.
Aside from the layering and the slightly more distant sound to her voice, ‘Brittle Crushed & Torn’ sounds more like Ballads Of Living & Dying than anything on Little Hells and propels itself on the back of her famed fingerpicking.
The rather basic piano playing and repetitive lyrics of ‘The Hole Is Wide’ work in much the same way as they worked on PJ Harvey’s White Chalk. Incantational and vital, this has the feel of chamber music. One of the album’s standout tracks.
Billed as Little Hells‘ first single, this is relatively buoyant in musical terms. Pace’s percussion rolls gently along as Dave Scher’s lap-steel creates a luscious country-hewed backdrop. Lyrically, however, a stunning sense of bleakness with only glimpses of redemption remains a constant: “Burning rivers of dirt and fire / we return to the ground when we retire”
With all its eerie theremin swirls, ‘Loner’ feels a little effects heavy. It’s hard to fully make out such startling lyrics as “You’re a loner dust loner / and I’m a loner too,” but they are there, their rawness muted a little by the drone of the Wurlitzer.
The closest that Marissa has ever come to soft rock, ‘Mistress’ is redemptive and full of ironed-out regret. Again, Scher’s expert steel guitar keeps it on the right side of country, while the final utterance of “goodbye misery” is nothing short of beautiful.
Actual artwork unavailable at the time of publication. Illustration is a detail from ‘When The Day Is Full’ by Katy Horan.