PREVIEW Who is the shy girl casting her eyes downward on the cover of Little Hells (Kemado)? Here in Hell, Marissa Nadler could be a damsel who has tumbled from a frayed tapestry in search of her unicorn, a crystal doll who has escaped from her vitrine, or a tubercular maid who has slipped out of her Victorian deathbed photograph to traipse this earthly plane. She's the dark, downbeat cousin of the enormous-eyed cameo cutie gracing The Saga of Mayflower May (Eclipse, 2005), the sunlit warbler singing in the lawn at the first Arthur Fest, and the whimsical Rhode Island School of Design-educated artist I spoke to around the time of Songs III: Bird on the Water (Kemado, 2007).
With her fourth full-length, Nadler enters a new, more synthetic, and increasingly richer musical realm than that on her previous recordings one outfitted with its own exquisite troubles and terrors. The almost imperceptibly swooping faux strings that strafe "Heart Paper Lover" sound like tiny planes dive-bombing a cruel sweetheart. The goth muses slumbering within Nadler's out-folk also come to light, blinking: one imagines Mary Shelley waking to find herself in Frankenstein's grave-dirt-encrusted shoes on the harpsichord-strewn, almost Sisters of Mercy-like "Mary Comes Alive." Still, Nadler's voice has never sounded so fine catching itself on miniscule beads of longing on "Rosary" and fading, delicately detuned, like a dying darling on "Ghosts and Lovers."
MARISSA NADLER With Eric Shea. Wed/8, 9:30 p.m., $10$12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com