Marissa Burwell
Marissa Burwell

by Jon Neher

September 17, 2019

Marissa Burwell’s self-titled album showcases her depth and promise as a young singer-songwriter.

It’s near impossible to pinpoint the exact moment something changes; to isolate a specific tipping point. If you were to ask the excellent Canadian journalist Sarah MacDonald, she might say 2018 was the year that rock prioritized tenderness, citing a number of introspective female writers making their mark in popular culture. While I would agree 2018 is when tenderness hit the mainstream, I first noticed  “tender rock” bubbling under the surface in the underground and DIY scenes in 2016; in part because I was actively searching to break my male-centred listening habits and also because many of these artists were being introduced on the international stage: Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek and Puberty 2; Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle; Phoebe Bridgers’s Stranger in the Alps. Skip forward three years to the 2019 NBA Finals when I kept hearing about superstar player Steph Curry’s inherent “gravity”, how by virtue of him receiving attention, other players gained space on the court they needed to be their best selves. Extending this analogy, I can name a few young musicians making the most of their open floor and taking uncontested jumpers. 

It’s uncanny how Regina, Saskatchewan’s Marissa Burwell brings to mind some of the great songwriters who are close to her in age without seeming like a one-to-one copy. Much of her self-titled album is produced with Burwell’s voice cloaked in a thick double that emphasizes slight variations in otherwise smooth and pure melodies. Tracks like “Missing Number” in particular reminds me of Phoebe Bridgers’s unhurried and warm delivery. It’s quite rare to find a young-songwriter who is so willing to use irregular space to ornament their lyrics, but Burwell does it so well in “Missing Number”. In the lyrics, “Oh, I get it/ oh she’s so divine” or “and you snuck off/ kissing her” the open space emphasizes how much pain it causes her to bring up those words. Again, while not a one-to-one copy, Burwell’s understanding of rhythmic lyricism is similar to Mitski’s “Nobody”, where the way the words are said is just as important as the words themselves.

My favourite tracks on the album are buoyed by spectacular instrumentals by Grind Central Records mainstays Nolan Grad on guitar, Madison Nicol on bass, and label co-founder Chris Dimas on drums. “Catch Me” comes to a satisfying conclusion largely because of the gradual build in the spacey guitar and the spare drums. The space, emotion, and tenderness at the heart of Burwell’s songs are only heightened by the restraint of the supporting instruments.

Even though songwriters like Baker and Bridgers are still in the prime of their career, they’ve already ushered in the next wave of songwriters. Of those new songwriters, Marissa Burwell is one to watch. The end of 2019 sees Burwell travelling with her band throughout North America and Europe to showcase her prowess — I imagine if she continues on the trajectory she’s currently on there will be more than a few young songwriters taking a cue from her work in the near future.

Jon Neher

Contributor at DOMINIONATED
Jon plays in too many bands, but he's working on that. Jon also wants people to talk about the music they listen to in greater detail and he's working on that too, whether it's through his work as an artist, as an educator, or as a writer.

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