There’s something beautiful about the unraveling of time. It’s a slow march of impermanence, an exercise in letting go.
To listen to any track on Marissa Nadler’s sixth album, “The Sister,” is to experience this unraveling. Since her first album, 2004’s “Ballads of Living and Dying,” Nadler’s music has enveloped listeners in a sense of the infinite. Her half-whispered singing is remarkable in its ability to enthrall. Pressing the repeat button is inevitable — an invitation to submit to the unending waves of breathy, sorrowful enchantment.
“The Sister” is Nadler’s second full-length record on her label, Box of Cedar, and the sister album to last year’s eponymous release. Musically, “The Sister” moves slowly. Soft acoustic melody lines mingle with a haunting backdrop, a dream woven with minimalist guitar and bass. The opening track, “The Wrecking Ball Company,” is the only song with drums.
The album’s impossibly dream-like quality gives the album a tune-in, drop-out feel. Nadler’s lyrics are a masterfully woven story employing a diverse range of characters and thematic devices — a small town, an aspiring rock ‘n’ roll musician and the tempest of emotions in a passionate relationship, among others.
“You said you’d need a wrecking ball to break the cement ‘round the heart,” Nadler sings on “The Wrecking Ball Company.” “A company of mad machines would take the walls, crumble them apart.”
These lyrics demonstrate Nadler’s artistic appeal. They swirl around in the listener’s head like snowflakes against a windowpane, but there is always a window of clarity. The scarcity of instruments on the album thrusts Nadler’s voice to the forefront, floating above everything else, an almost ethereal presence. It provides a glimmer of hope — a single candle flame flickering through the storm, the assurance of a personally tailored sonic landscape. No matter how deep into hopelessness you’ve descended, this album coaxes, convinces that you’ll always have this world to retreat into.
“The Sister” is a fascinating look at Nadler’s journey into artistic self-actualization. She’s moving rapidly away from what’s expected, but stops for a moment to look back with longing reflection.
“Back out of all this now too much for us,” Robert Frost wrote in his poem “Directive,” “Back in a time made simple by the loss, / Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off, / Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather.”
“The Sister” carries the same sense of urgency as the opening lines of Frost’s poem. She ties together scattered themes and characters in a beautiful montage of pain and of hope. She dulls the sharp edge of bitter fate, and lulls you into a dream. You don’t want to wake up, only to back in to the space she’s constructed. We hope, like the speaker in Frost’s “Directive,” to find our watering place — to “drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5