Nicole Dollanganger
Married in Mount Airy



by BlazinBlitzer USER (8 Reviews)
January 23rd, 2023 | 3 replies

Release Date: 01/06/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A stripped-back, flawed, yet authentic look at turbulent intimacy.

Nicole Bell, or Nicole Dollanganger, has made a pretty decent career thus far building on a brand of intimate, soft, and sometimes unexpectedly heavy pop-folk music. She’s had some hits here and there and a relative breakout record in 2015, Natural Born Losers. That record thematically was a collage of significantly dark song topics and situations, all tied together by the idea of the loss of self-control. Her next album, Heart Shaped Bed separates itself from that throughline while retaining much of the heavy guitars and production of the previous record. With this new album, fans might have wondered if Nicole would continue to try to perfect the instrumental style of the last two records or if a new approach was imminent. The latter proved true as this is probably her most stripped-back album since Ode to Dawn Wiener, and I think she did a decent enough job with this stylistic return.

Right off the bat, I’m aware that some first-time listeners will be irked by the high-pitched vocals, but I believe she’s sold the style well, and that “well” immediately upgrades to “excellently” on the opening title track. It’s a natural fit for the descript intimacy of the lyrics and the vocals themselves contribute heavily to the song’s progression. The first two minutes alone are highlighted by intensified vocal effects and layering, which is a difficult task to pull off satisfyingly for any artist. Fast-forwarding to the middle of the record, I really like the composition around what’s probably my favorite track here, “Moonlite”. The tribal percussion, the harp-sounding guitar plucks, and those high-pitched synth effects that sound like nocturnal animal calls bring a unique feel to the track. Not to mention that the song is very well written with hauntingly beautiful imagery and chilling dialogue between the narrator and her partner.

Summarizing the rest of the record can be mostly boiled down to how well the instrumentals can present Nicole’s lyrical content, which proves to be a somewhat mixed effort. I like how “Runnin’ Free” pulls off a particularly saccharine nature with a narrative that seems as equally sentimental as the instrumental gives away. “Whispering Glades” is a piece seemingly about a woman grieving over not having reasons to leave gifts for her late partner, which is backed by a fitting two-step folk composition that progresses at an exceedingly gratifying pace. The other side of that effort appears in tracks like “Bad Man” where Nicole describes the horrifying ordeal of reflecting on the murder of a likely abuser under the guise of a stripped-down folk song. A similar, albeit less extreme clashing of tones occurs on “Dogwood” where there’s a more obvious menace to the composition, but that still can’t quite make up for the fantastic, religion-tied lyrical concept as the instrumental.

Aside from pointing out some great synth work on “Sometime After Midnight”, nothing else feels distinct enough from the record’s general comfort zone to discuss properly. I’m not sure if I’d say that this record is better or worse than her last record, but I think Nicole could churn out something amazing if she plays around with more instrumentation and more integrated vocal and synth effects like she did on this record’s highlights. She’s got the songwriting formula down; it’s just that consistency will be the big question going forward.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
January 23rd 2023


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Nice review. The other one already convinced me to check this out, but yours would have if I hadn't read Dewinged's first. If you like this, maybe check out Wings of Joy by Cranes.

January 24th 2023


Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks! I might give that a look-see at some point.

January 24th 2023


Album Rating: 3.0

I like her songs about Columbine

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