I was at Los Angeles’ Hotel Café the other night and caught an opening set from Marissa Nadler. I wasn’t much familiar with her beyond having seen her name around but I was glad to have seen her set. Nadler has been labeled with the freak folk tag, which she is and she isn’t. There is a definitely a mystical quality about both her and her music. With long dark hair, dark eyes and an introspective stage presence, she comes off as being a couple years matured from a post-goth period. Her songs are semi-twisted tales (one line went: “Silvia, I met you in a belly of a whale”) that she sings in a semi-quivery voice. The combination suggests a slightly odd blending of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan gone on a traditional English folk song kick. In fact, more than being a freak folkie, Nadler makes music in the dark art folk vein. It’s telling when her “lightest” song is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” She was backed by a band for this show (a drummer, bassist and guitarist) that added to her music’s dreamy hallucinatory effect. They sounded a bit like a muted Cowboy Junkies. Nadler revealed at the end of the set that this was the first show with this backing band and that might have explained why the arrangements didn’t quite come together. Close but not fully transcendent. While the guitarist provided some vivid textures, it didn’t feel like there was enough dramatic tension in the music. However, maybe that was part of the point – to create a dark and dreamy sound that floated along with Nadler’s dark and dreamy songs. My lack of familiarity with the songs also uncut my full understanding and appreciation of the lyrics, although they projected an eerie, timeless quality. But it does say something that these beguiling performance is still staying with me a few days after the fact.
Nadler has a new album Little Hells (a seemingly appropriate title) that just came out on the Kemado Records label.