Her voice was described by the popular online music website Pitchfork Media as "a voice you would follow straight into Hades." She is known for her dreamy, atmospheric music, that although rooted in folk traditions, is more ethereal than earthy. Her music was recently described as "ethereal reverberations" in the New York Times. In the Boston Globe, her voice and music is described : "She has a voice that, in mythological times, could have lured men to their deaths at sea, an intoxicating soprano drenched in gauzy reverb that hits bell-clear heights, lingers, and tapers off like rings of smoke. Hardly anyone considers Nadler a folk musician."
Music critics describe Nadler's songs as having American Gothic leanings; her stories often take place in an imagined, idealistic time with a cast of characters of her own creation. Yet, in recent years, it has emerged that the characters are less make believe than listeners thought and are based on real people, and their real lives, which she revealed in an interview with the music website Stereogum.com Her links to American Gothic are reinforced by "Annabelle Lee," the last song on her debut album, Ballads of Living and Dying, which puts the poem of the same title by Edgar Allan Poe to a musical backing. Singing in a haunting mezzo-soprano, the foundation of her songs are her delicate acoustic guitar, often accompanied by a variety of instruments, ranging from organ to theremin to electric guitar.
Marissa Nadler released her first album, Ballads of Living and Dying, on Eclipse Records in 2004; her follow-up, The Saga of Mayflower May, was released in July 2005. Both records were distributed in the US by Eclipse Records, and by the UK label Beautiful Happiness in Europe. Eclipse Records' Ed Hardy, who runs a mostly vinyl record label formerly in the desert of Bullhead City Arizona, is credited by Marissa herself as having brought her into the musical world. Marissa released her third record Songs III: Bird on the Water on Peacefrog Records in Europe on March 12, 2007. The album was released in the US and Canada on August 12, 2007 by Kemado Records. Songs III: Bird on the Water was nominated for two PLUG awards in 2008: best female artist of the year, and best Americana record of the year. Marissa won "Outstanding Singer-Songwriter of the Year" in the 2008 Boston Music Awards, with three nominations altogether.
Her fourth full-length record, Little Hells, was released March 3, 2009, receiving high praise from many critics including 4 Star reviews from magazines such as Mojo, Rolling Stone in France and Germany, Uncut, Q. It received an 8.3 from Pitchforkmedia.com, with critic Grayson Currin writing, "Surrounded by little else but her own melancholy, Nadler sums up her career's existential despair: "Ghosts and lovers/ They will haunt you for a while," she sings. And while they do, Little Hells suggests through 10 of Nadler's best songs yet, the sadness will either kill you or keep you going."
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