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Album Review

Marissa Nadler, 'Little Hells'

March 16, 2009
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Indie Folk
Marissa Nadler Little Hells
Kemado
ESSENTIAL "Mistress"
Marissa Nadler plays with the Handsome Family at the Lizard Lounge on April 24.

From her voice to her songs to her production, everything about Marissa Nadler's music is gauzy. "Little Hells," the Boston-based singer-songwriter's fourth album, seems as though it's coming at you through sheets of delicately wafting black lace. "The Whole Is Wide" starts with a multitracked Nadler singing "Flowers died a long time ago, my friend/ And they're hanging on the wall with wax and thread" like Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval reborn as a wide-eyed, black-eyelinered witch, as Dave Scher's apparent two-finger piano chords bounce from hand to hand. With its whispery vocals, heavy organ, and thick echo, "Loner" sounds like Nadler played it at the altar of a cathedral while the recording equipment was set up in the back pews. There are some promising signs throughout: The drum program driving "Mary Come Alive" (halfway between Imogen Heap and "Hounds of Love"-era Kate Bush) goads her into playfulness, and the nicely melodic "Mistress" goes a long way at demonstrating some of the warmhearted humanity that was lost in the atmosphere of earlier albums. But most of "Little Hells" is musically quite simple, giving the sense that whatever Nadler has to say rests entirely in her sound, not in the songs themselves. (Out now) MARC HIRSH

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