Marissa Nadler wasn’t meant for these times, but we should be thankful for the chronological mix-up. Over the course of two low-key but well-received albums, Nadler has done her part to re-popularize the role of the balladeer. Instrumentally steeped in the American Gothic tradition, Nadler has a gift for writing intricate tales of another time, expressing sentiments and experiences seemingly well beyond her years. For Songs III: Bird on the Water, Nadler doesn’t stray from this formula so much as build upon it, thanks to the production work of Espers’ Greg Weeks.
Although Nadler’s twelve-string acoustic and haunting mezzo-soprano still form the core of her sound, Weeks’s fingerprints are all over the album. Bird on the Water is much more diverse sonically, with a variety of instruments (cello, organ, electric guitar) incorporated into the mix. The electric guitar especially seems an odd choice at a glance: Suspension of belief goes out the window when the first squelch of feedback in “Bird on Your Grave” takes a sledgehammer to the proverbial fourth wall. While there’s no going back to your fairy tale construct at this point, it’s still arguably a net gain-the dichotomy of styles being strangely alluring.
Ever the bleak lyricist, Nadler once again consistently feeds us songs centered on death, loss and regret. Pathos is her bread and butter, and Nadler’s not about to go hungry with songs like “Diamond Heart,” an ode to a lost lover: “I had a man in every town/ And I thought of you each time/ When I tore off my gown/ Changes they come/ And I cannot recall/ The shape of your face/ Through the winters and falls.” Just as impressive is her ability to take others’ words and make them her own, as she does on her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
Bird on the Water will only be available in North America as an import. But the great songwriting and immaculate production make it a sound investment.