Marissa Nadler as Tourbus Guide

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Published March 5, 2009

At first, “River of Dirt” feels like a Marissa Nadler tour video. But the shots taken from the backseat of a tour bus are deceptive: There’s no band, just a speechless pack of travelers. They might be the circus performers mentioned in the song. But they might also be sad, stylish wanderers drifting toward some elusive destination–maybe they’re going home. Who knows? Nadler’s songs operate in these liminal zones: between last night’s show and tomorrow’s; between homes and loves lost and found; between waking life and our dreams. Her longtime video partner Joana Linda directed this video (and others, including the Mazzy Star-esque “Bird on your Grave”) sets Nadler’s disarming voice to a mise-en-scene befitting her latest collection of outcast ballads, Little Hells (out next week on Kemado).

Nadler shows new command with her fourth album and, fittingly, this time around she reins in a full band. And with this newest release, there’s a lot less Wiccan shtick, and a lot more brutally honest and wrenching songwriting about the haunted regions of the psyche. As with the entire album, “River of Dirt” leverages producer Chris Coady’s ear for Eno-inspired sonic landscapes— he’s worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, !!!, and Telepathe, among others—lending Nadler pitch-bending vocals an intensity that conveys comfort in the world she’s created in her music. There’s a heavy dose of the occult in the Marissa Nadler mystique, as though she’s feeding off a great collective consciousness shared with Will Oldham, Joanna Newsom, and Stevie Nicks. Part of me wishes she’d use her siren call to unite Sisters of the Moon in a woodland super-group of nymphs and urban wood-sprites.