[Box of Cedar; 2011]

There is something special about the way in which Marissa Nadler naturally creates her music, lulling the listener into reverie. Her voice is the softest of sounds, breathlessly whispering icy and articulate lyrics; combining this with complex, beautiful melodies and liberal acoustic guitar is a sure-fire way of getting good marks as a folk musician. But every praise that Nadler receives is deserved. Her draw is her enchanting voice and the organic music that she weaves. She invokes such musicians as Nick Drake in her solo approach, although a closer reference point would perhaps be Beach House.

Nadler sounds quite similar to Victoria Legrand from the popular dream-pop duo. This is not to say that Nadler is in any way derivative of Beach House: she first began gaining attention in 2004 after the release of her début album, Ballads of Living and Dying, and has since gone from strength to strength, improving on her earlier material with a higher budget and more skilful song-writing. The first few tracks of her latest album, the eponymous Marissa Nadler, are mostly made up of soft, tender folk music with a slow pace. Tracks such as album opener “In Your Lair, Bear” drift by without a great sense of tension; the gracious melody emphasises the dream-pop elements of her performance, and at just short of six minutes in length, it’s clear that Marissa isn’t concerned about getting anywhere fast.

At least, that seems like the case until the seductive “Baby, I Will Leave You In The Morning,” which adopts a larger array of instruments, including percussion and ambient electronic sounds. “Puppet Master,” on the other hand, is a faster-paced song that seems to carry an air of menace about it. Any assumption that Nadler is a musical push-over is discarded upon hearing this track, especially after witnessing the multi-layered vocals sung in different overlapping registers. It works extremely well, and shows that Nadler is truly in her element when laying down unpredictable sounds. The same extends to the structure of her songs; many of these tracks lack conventional verse and chorus templates, instead meandering wherever Nadler wishes to take them. The trip-hop beats of “Wedding” are especially surprising, blending extremely well with the odd synthetic sounds that Nadler summons: somewhere in this track, the line between instrument and vocal are blurred, to the point that it becomes difficult to discern what is being played and what is being sung in the background. It’s fascinating.

Some folk musicians, such as Bon Iver and The Tallest Man on Earth, embrace the entire aesthetic of creating music in log cabins and with little outside of their charismatic, iconic voices and guitar playing wizardry. Nadler is a different sort of folk musician: the kind who isn’t afraid to splice all sorts of sounds together. Although this detracts from that independent atmosphere that you get with some other folk musicians, it in no way makes Nadler’s music less deserving of praise: indeed, Marissa Nadler is the sort of folk album that you’ll be returning to simply because it is so varied. She can still make excellent, stripped-down folk music, as evidenced by the wonderful, banjo-tinged “Little King,” and she’s not afraid to finish things off with the incredible, sorrowful “Daisy, Where Did You Go?,” which provides the perfect catharsis for this compelling, melancholic listen.