Nicole Dollanganger
Heart Shaped Bed


3.5
great

Review

by BlushfulHippocrene CONTRIBUTOR (24 Reviews)
November 8th, 2018 | 31 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Twisted parables

If cut, I’m not convinced Heart Shaped Bed wouldn’t bleed. After all, it’s difficult to tell whether Nicole Dollanganger’s tales of blood and lust were intended to be just that – fiction – or something more akin to extended metaphor. To be sure, the album’s chronicling of murder and uncle fucking is, no doubt, “just that” (or so we’d hope). But it’s through an effective amalgam of heart-rending performances, delicate song-writing, and some all-too deliberate production choices that the album is transformed into something altogether “more”. Of course, most apparent in Dollanganger’s writing is her penchant for dressing up tropes of the fantastic in cherubic gowns. (The converse is also often true.) It isn’t the music’s unsubtleties, however, that give rise to the magic inherent in its form; and rather, it’s that which these games of dress-up attempt to blind us to that constitute the heart beneath the album’s well-stitched garments.

On ‘Side A’ of Dollanganger’s Heart Shaped Bed – the title ‘Blue Valentine’ would be just as appropriate – the singer embodies the despondent housewife, abject and servile, remorseful though dormant. Opener ‘Uncle’ (FKA the much subtler ‘I Slept with My Uncle on My Wedding Night’) establishes her passiveness with mournful detail:

I wake up and I creep
Down the hall, to your feet
Where I lay like a dog (for you)
In silk down to my knees

Side A’s centrepiece, ‘Lemonade’, is much the same. Detailing another of the bride’s sexual improprieties – this time in response to rumours that her husband has “one on the side” himself – the song, despite its protagonist’s attempt at enacting vengeance, thrusts her further down a path of self-abasement. For, just as in ‘Uncle’, the bride’s actions lack a certain self-determination. As a result, emptiness takes form, alongside a self-effacing subservience manifesting itself in the production surrounding it. Distinct from much of Dollanganger’s heavier works, ‘Side A’ capitalises on the inherent power in the artist’s soft-spoken, seraphic vocal prowess, setting her voice atop gentle, though no less despondent piano ballads. Stuck at the centre of the album’s first half, however, ‘Lemonade’ fails to break free from its self-imposed shackles. Such is reserved for the album’s second half. Though what the lead single does do is hint at a breaking point, a willingness to act: “Take you upstairs, to the swan bed / Let you fuck me, hard as you can…” And with these words, a glimmer of dissonant drum shakes complement what appear to be distorted vocal harmonies, harrowing and sad. The moment is slight. ‘Side A’ is slight. Yet, in spite of this, its sadness is tangible, its tales true; and without it, the album wouldn’t, perhaps couldn’t, be as it is.

A soft breeze beckons – alongside the ugliest of synth stabs – distorted guitar cracks that characterise the greater part of ‘Side B’. Co-written and produced with Matt Tomasi and famed metal engineer Arthur Rizk (of, as I understand it, Power, Prurient and Inquisition fame), the second half of Heart Shaped Bed (‘A Tale of Cum of Blood’) is just as one might expect. Or not... Despite its heav(enl)iness, ‘Side B’ fails to match the extremes of Dollanganger’s past work. ‘Bad and Beautiful’, in particular, though it falls on the abrasive end of the album, is a shadow of the gash that appears on the Cute Aggression EP. Yet, where ‘Side B’ does succeed is in its contrast to that which comes before it. Brought to life (or, perhaps, reanimated) with the help of Rizk, ‘Snake’ is the turning-point that ‘Lemonade’ (and indeed, much of ‘Side A’) hints at. In a manner as immediate and confronting as the bride can conjure, she sings:

In the hazy blue, you look so sweet
I almost forgot what you do to me
If I let you…

Dollanganger’s vocals here are as provocative and bellicose as the character deserves. Teeth grit, drill at her side, the bride at last exacts revenge for her husband’s brutal lovelessness, and the experience is immaculate. Of course, the album’s despondencies remain. Whereas on the first half this sadness manifested in toothless attempts at mental destruction, however – through an over-reliance on the album’s others (who, at least in part, fail to exist at all in the universe the album conjures) – ‘Side B’ provides its speaker with more material means of inflicting an even greater deal of pain.

In part, I think that’s where this album succeeds. Or, at least, where much of its intrigue lies. Dollanganger, perhaps unwittingly, finds herself playing with the constantly shifting boundaries between the physical and metaphysical. On ‘Side A’, the speaker attempts to externalise her pain, unidentifiable, through dangerous, incestuous affairs. ‘Side B’, on the other hand, sees her transcending this, reaching a sort of apotheosis, through (and after) which she's able to inflict wounds of a more mortal nature -- from the vantage point of perhaps not heaven, but a hellish, supernatural limbo of sorts.

Exploring that of the parable (in relation to Kafka), critical theorist Theodor Adorno wrote of allegories, "the key[s] to which [have] been stolen”. I don’t think Heart Shaped Bed is, by any means, impenetrable in the same way – it is, at times, quite the opposite – but what Dollanganger manages is to immerse the listener into a world that is as fanciful as it is identifiable, grounded within the darkest of our realities. As a result, its universe feels "real", in some sense; or, at the very least, “true”. And in truth, I find it difficult to tell whether Heart Shaped Bed was intended to form a wholistic narrative or not. If it did, as I've assumed, the bride in ‘Uncle’ might be the same as that in ‘Lacrymaria Olor’. Just as likely, though, is that Dollanganger's chosen to play medium, in an attempt to conjure and, in turn, voice the tales of ten kindred spirits, heartbroken and vengeful. In this sense, then, Heart Shaped Bed, the two-part tale of cum and blood, is much more like a tomb of twisted parables, one foot in this world, and one another.



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user ratings (12)
Chart.
3.4
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
verdant
Staff Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2293 Comments


these are some good words, some very good words

BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Excuse this wank. Listen, though, if you please: https://nicoledollanganger.bandcamp.com/album/heart-shaped-bed-side-a (:

I love you, Jack. I love you very much.

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Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


23947 Comments


oh wow look a blush REV im hype what a day

clavier
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


818 Comments


yesssss blush good stuff

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Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


23947 Comments


really interesting review blush, nicely written as always. the mention of the Uncle story hooked me, although after some quick research I realize now it's from the author V.C. Andrews who published a short story about it (also uncoincidentally has a series under the name Dollanganger??)

jamming Lemonade rn and her voice is extremely sensual and delicate, which matches a lot of the themes she attempts to cover in a really interesting dichotomy. not sure this is exactly my type of music, but it's definitely interesting. also my guitarist showed me that Full of Hell album and that's why she is so familiar because she KILLS it on those songs shes on damn.

Divaman
November 8th 2018


3060 Comments


This sounds interesting. Tempts me to at least check it out.

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Papa Universe
November 8th 2018


18102 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

well, it is better than her previous record.



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theBoneyKing
November 8th 2018


15497 Comments


Very interesting writeup blush, your writing is a treat, as ever. Not often you see this kind of thoughtful engagement with a ("mere") 3.5 rating.

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Frivolous
November 8th 2018


840 Comments


i like this review

CalculatingInfinity
November 8th 2018


8647 Comments


Album is really good if you replace the abysmal album version of Beautiful and Bad with the original version (Chapel too but to a much lesser extent), better than I expected. Good work Blush.

Dewinged
November 8th 2018


12110 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fantastic review Blush, you truly are one of a kind here man, the depth you reach in your reviews and the way you express those ideas is stunning.



Her voice still unsettles the shit out of me, but lovely album otherwise.



Now, where is the goddamn POS button!!!?

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ScuroFantasma
Staff Reviewer
November 8th 2018


11587 Comments


Excellent review blush (:

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butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


8869 Comments


is this the pussycat dolls gal?

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BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks a lot friends. [:

"is this the pussycat dolls gal?" -- unfortunately nah; kinda like a (pussycat) doll possessed by some disillusioned housewife from the 20s, though, fried for murdering her debaucherous husband with a power drill. close enough, really. oh, and she has sex with her uncle.

verdant
Staff Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2293 Comments


same tbh

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2577 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

there’s swearing in this review ???

BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2018


2612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oh, and, @Connor, that's a great point about her voice being both sensual and delicate. All the allusions to sex on this album are super interesting. She has a song on her debut called Blood Brothers that's fairly explicit about this bizarre relationship between two characters who, of course, cut themselves and press their wounds together, but then the song's also interspersed with all these hyper-sexual descriptions. ("We stain the sheet with cum and blood / We consumated with his gun"). The relationship between sex and violence is just so fine within her songs, to the point where there seems to be a lot of truth (and concern) in its depiction: at once dangerous and profound, but so few of her characters are able to find that balance and so there's just this deep ugliness in the action...

alamo
November 8th 2018


558 Comments


oooooooooh new dollanganger

Tchitcherine
November 9th 2018


100 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Tammy Faye is beautiful, had to repeat it 4 times in a row when i first listened to this record

WatchItExplode
November 9th 2018


6010 Comments


This is exactly what I needed to compel me to listen.

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