Marissa Nadler is an artist whose work contains multitudes in its subtleties. Her soft, ghostly voice and finger-picked guitars transcend folk music into something more spirited, more haunting, and clearly calling from another plane.
Her performance at Ideal Bar is a solo set with a six string guitar, a 12 string guitar, and infinite multi-tracking options. Nadler drives herself to distraction in her concern about the sound, repeatedly motioning to her sound guy and halting a song literally a note in over the tuning. “You can put this in your review,” she says by way of apology. “I just want to get this right so I can feel it for you guys.”
She’s too hard on herself, but it’s easy to empathize with her fixation. A musician can’t write songs with her nuances without some degree of fanaticism. And it plays out in interesting ways for audience members willing to home in on the details.
“All Out of Catastrophes” is the first song to illustrate the complexities of her songs. Nadler builds layer upon layer of looped guitars before turning her attention to her vocals. Far from simply echoing her own voice, she harmonizes and emphasizes different aspects of the verse with each round. It’s a direct insight to how she must record her vocals in the studio, a treat for nerds and a wonder for normal people.
Adding to the ghostly quality of her voice is its unwavering softness, no matter how high a note she hits. There are a few moments when she lilts towards a country voice — a completely convincing parallel track her to have taken in her music and her lyrics — and you wonder if she’s repressing an urge or revealing another dimension. Knowing Nadler’s work, she could hint at this new element in future albums and performances, or quietly obliterate it; whatever best suits the songs.