Can we please sit back, and take a moment to talk about Marissa Nadler’s voice? Hoity-toity music writers like to get caught up in how all these records twist up our insides, but sometimes all that theorizing and naval-gazing can eschew some of the more wonderful things that exist on a very concrete, very tangible, and very unpretentious plane. I like her stories, I like her frosty, double-espresso guitar, but the reason Another Marissa Nadler Album consistently pricks up ears is because her gorgeous, infinitely wandering sigh buffers us from anything that could possibly exist outside of her songs. It just feels good man, and maybe that’s too easy, we’ve all been down that impossible thought-process before – you know, that internal struggle through the imaginary rules of album ranking and resource, which, of course, completely dissolves when you’re actually listening to the music. How many times have we cast aside basic human pleasure-centers in the name of thoughtful criticism? Nadler’s got one of those undebatable voices that makes those perspectives seem deeply, deeply silly. Her sixth effort The Sister is probably the closest you could ever accuse her of phoning it in, but it remains powerful, addictive, and profoundly spellbinding for its lean build. You can’t teach that.
The Sister drops in almost exactly a year after 2011’s self-titled, self-issued cornerstone that from the beginning felt like a big, important, career-molding item. Marissa Nadler was musically intricate, lyrically focused, and dutifully structured, it made sense considering she was sourcing from about three years of songs. The Sister, in turn, feels compacted and restricted, a woman with a guitar singing in a room – dashes of bass, drums and piano sure, but this is stripped-down and solemn, beautifully vacant in a way Nadler has owned for a long time. At eight songs and 33 minutes and about 11 months removed from a much bigger statement, this might very well be creative run-off, but very, very elegant run-off.
The best story is “Constantine,” a predictably faint ramble about rock’n’roll loneliness with just enough blanks to fill for your own tale, (“meeting up on a river green” sounds a lot like death, to me.) But personally I don’t spend a lot of time following the arcs. To me, “I will take you in as my apostle” is just a really good thing to say in a love song. Nadler, as usual, has a knack for slipping in some odd, seemingly harmless little phrases that burrow deep into your brain when you least expect it. “Apostle” might be about alcoholism, or sex, or obsession, but its definition is almost inconsequential – the ingredients are the things that leave residue.
Some people have taken umbrage with The Sister simply because, for an artist who’s moved in some pretty deliberate ways, issuing a shorter, darker, narrower album seems somewhat beneath her. This is true, this is a record without a cult following, year-end buzz, or perhaps any lasting consideration past October. But frankly, that’s missing the point. The Sister is Marissa Nadler looking down and realizing that she has recently written eight good songs. No context, no drama, no storyline, just, you know, music. When Nadler has that kind of publishing power, we know we’re living in a good world.