In interviews, Chan Marshall insists her songs come to her from dreams and the air surrounding her. There's no questioning the dreamlike quality of her best work — where subtle, haunting melodies are backlit with spare piano and elemental guitar — and there's no denying that whatever space she occupies, she completely takes over. This is one moody woman.
You Are Free was Marshall's first collection of original material in five years, and it rushes forth in a briskly moving stream-of-consciousness, no matter how slow the actual tune in question. Special guests include Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (background vocals), Nirvana/Foo Fighters 'Dave Grohl (drums, three tracks) and producer Adam Kasper, who twirls the knobs for a slightly brighter hue. But they're mostly a cheering section. The real focus is the songwriting, which remains eerily private, whether it's concerning the music business ("I Don't Blame You," "Free") or child abuse ("Names"). Marshall sings with a quiet desperation and honesty — and often in angelic, multi-tracked stereo — that makes it seem as if you're not actually hearing these thoughts but reading her mind.