Nadine Mooney MouseHouseWormHole

[Tender Loving Empire; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: introverted loner folk, home-taped dickery
Others: Joanna Newsom, Jandek, Kate Bush

Ahh, the classic sound of lo-fi bedroom recordings. Sure, the result of masking lack of imagination by way of low fidelity was abundant by the end of the ’90s and might have left a bad taste in people’s mouths. But with the advent of ProTools, this home-woven artistry is harder and harder to come by. Technology has weeded out some of the poseurs, making low-tech creativity that much more rare and refreshing. Besides, recordings done with home ProTools systems generally fall into a whole unbearable category of their own.

Nadine Mooney, the late grandmother and moniker of Portland’s Sage Fisher, doesn’t always tap into otherworldliness or a bygone era, as reading into the pseudonym might suggest. (For the sake of this review, we’ll refer to Sage Fisher as Nadine Mooney.) Despite a wild imagination and an affinity for fantasy, her playful use of the cassette eight-track (is that her telephone I hear ringing in the background of that song?) always keeps her recordings grounded in reality. Her whimsical innocence toward recording resonates most, and her seeming naiveté is everything. Like teenage Kate Bush demos, it’s not hard to sympathize with the reality of a girl playing to herself in her bedroom. But unlike those precious Bush bootlegs, Nadine Mooney is deliberate, obviously recording for an audience, and making the ability to experience the intimate surroundings of her privacy that much more special.

On MouseHouseWormHole, thinly plucked guitar melodies accompanied by lightly back-masked textural ambience lays the groundwork for a multi-tracked tapestry of Mooney’s vocals to soar over. Her off-kilter soprano is delicate and meticulously crafted, with layered melodies continually weaving in and out of each other. Like Lucinda Williams or early American folk and blues, her voice is fairly raw but characteristically her own. If it hasn’t grown on you within a few minutes, it probably won’t, but as with the aforementioned artist and genre, her voice is a marker of her identity. Unlike distinct early folk caterwauling, however, her songwriting taps into the individual more than it takes on any kind of social role. While she certainly has contemporaries, falling dead center within bad clichés like ‘freak folk’ and ‘New Weird America,' she naturally achieves what for many others comes off as contrived.

Midway through the record, Mooney lets experimentation get the best of her, presenting the first half again, in its entirety... in reverse. We here at TMT were one of the few who championed Avey Tare and Kría Brekkan’s Pullhair Rubeye, and we’re not about to go back on our word, but that shit was polarizing and really demanded a dialog for a minute there in 2007. Once is enough, at least per decade, and it’s superfluous after hearing Mooney’s beautifully crafted effort the Right Way. Granted, like Tyrannosaurus Rex’s “Deboraarobed,” she does have an odd knack for sounding nearly identical backward and forward. But even Bolan kept it confined to one song, and, as for Mooney, the reversal makes her otherwise complete song cycle trail off rather than coming to a formal close. Fortunately, that’s what stop buttons are for, and this one obtuse decision on her part doesn’t detract from an impressive debut.

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