Marissa Nadler

The Sister

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Marissa Nadler's 2011 self-titled album saw her step outside of the confines of the narrow folk singer/songwriter genre that established her reputation and into dreamy pop and even the trappings of country-ish Americana and blues forms. The Sister, conceived as a companion album (hence its title), is its musical mirror image. Its eight songs focus on Nadler the singer and poet. Her voice is at the forefront in a sparse interior mix. Other instruments are used, but sparingly. Nadler's guitars are her primary accompaniment. The influence of the Brit-folk era of the early '70s is profound, though her style here is, for better and worse, her own brand of American Gothic. Most of these tunes are, as is now her signature, laments. "Constantine" is a shimmering tale of a rock star's decline; in "Christine," a neo- Elizabethan lyric depicts the tragedy of a woman whose ability to love and be loved has passed into the ghost realm. "Love Again, There Is a Fire" is a gloomy, almost suffocating emotional exhortation to reach beyond emotional devastation into whatever comes next, but its definition of pain is far more detailed than its encouragement is convincing. On the opener "The Wrecking Ball Company (the only cut with drums), Nadler's vocal reaches into it without completely engaging her upper register, and lets it range over and inhabit heartbreak fully: "You said you’d need a wrecking ball to break me/Cement around the heart..." Only "Apostle," a kind of spiritual love song, has a 12-string propelling her voice forward through emotional weariness toward the embrace of a seemingly powerful yet unknowable figure, and breaks the melancholy. Nadler's songwriting on The Sister is a virtual continuation of the themes she's been mining since she began recording, albeit with more nuance and finesse than ever before. Her singing has never been better than it is here. That said, the decision to rein in the forward-thinking, more ambitious, and colorful musical and textural steps she made on her last recording makes this rather monochromatic affair feel somewhat longer than its scant 33 minutes.

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