Say "goth" to the average quasi-hipster and he'll know the reference pertains to saturnine, dark-clothed youth with thick black eyeliner who listen almost exclusively to depressing music featuring lots of flanged bass and danceable remixes. Those who didn't sleep through their high school or college literature classes, however, know "goth" is descended from Gothic, a style of fiction encompassing writers Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor (the latter two of the uniquely American sub-genre Southern Gothic). Although singer/guitarist Marissa Nadler has been tagged as an exponent of the "freak folk" and "New Weird America" movement, if viewed in literary terms, she also falls into the rich lineage of American Gothic.
Born in 1981 to an artistically inclined family, Nadler grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. She has three albums to her name: Ballads of Living and Dying, featuring the song "Annabelle Lee," adapted from a Poe poem; The Saga of Mayflower May; and her newest, the enchanting, often sublime Song III: Bird on the Water. Nadler has been frequently compared to tradition-oriented Brit-folk thrushes Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan, but the singer gives more credit to Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, and Joni Mitchell for influencing her songwriting. (Cohen, the Grandmaster of Glum, the Sultan of Sulk -- there's a real goth antecedent for you.) While admitting a liking for British folk styles, she maintains they didn't have a big impact on her sound. Her originals (Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" is the sole cover on Song III) have a palpable feel of timelessness, as if they were written hundreds of years ago. Yet theyre free of any intentionally archaic trappings (i.e., the "broken" English of Palace Brothers' There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You). Her approach is spellbindingly, almost eerily, skeletal, with her lovely mezzo-soprano singing and nimble acoustic guitar garlanded by smatterings of electric guitar, mandolin, cello, and percussion. Subject matter (stressed and shattered love, death, sorrow, and related mysteries) and mood remain consistently forlorn throughout, yet Song III never feels arduous or precious. Perhaps thats because her delivery is unaffectedly airy and a wee bit bluesy, and her songs aren't a minute longer than they need to be.
In a world crawling with emotive, guitar-laden songsters, Nadler stands above and apart. In the words of old hipsters, the lady's goin' places. One place she'll be is on stage tonight after Mariee Sioux and Mountain Home perform.
Wed., Aug. 29, 9:30 p.m.