Marissa Nadler | Marissa Nadler (Box of Cedars)

I’m not one to badmouth sincerity, but there’s a fair bit of too-precious warbling going on here.

 

 

 

How serious is too serious? Marissa Nadler’s newest record is a dispatch from a poorly demarcated demilitarized zone separating necessarily weighty and humorless. I’m not one to badmouth sincerity, but there’s a fair bit of too-precious warbling going on here. Something just rubs the wrong way. This is evident right away in the first two tracks, “In Your Lair, Bear” and “Alabaster Queen.” Both move with the clock-watching drag of a poorly attended open mic night. Neither track is bad, but their ponderous wispiness is hardly engaging—a bit of an off-putting way to start an album. That’s not to assault Nadler or slight her numerous talents; her voice is expressive, and she can and does write some fine songs. It’s just difficult to get consistently excited. Thankfully, sticking with it pays dividends as the disc unfolds. “Puppet Master” splits the difference between overly dramatic and too-bright, straightforward singer-songwriter, settling in a captivating middle. “Wedding” floats above interestingly gauzy atmospherics; a soft but strong croon sells it.

The album has two pure stunners. Effortless, mid-tempo country-rocker “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You” laces marvelous slide guitar and a commanding vocal over piano and a gentle acoustic strum. Slow burning “Baby, I Will Leave You In the Morning” inches along with the time-slowed-to-a-crawl feel of a moment in which you know bad news is about to drop. It’s sexy but more ominous than romantic; its spaciousness and languorous pace are accentuated with some truly inspired touches of analogue synth. These are the songs you want the entire LP to be like.

A lot of Marissa Nadler is made up of solid but unremarkable singer-songwriter moments such as “Wind Up Doll” and the quiet, taut “Little King.” It could use a little more oomph like we get in the shimmering, organ and slide guitar accentuated “In a Magazine.” While Nadler’s pro songcraft and strong voice make for a record that’s often quite emotional and engaging, it’s ultimately one that you can’t help but like, but only wish that you loved. B- | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Rachael Yamagata; getting yelled at for clapping during a quiet song at a concert; Tori Amos if she ditched the faerie queen routine and traded piano for guitar

 

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