Dollanganger’s Heart Shaped Bed finishes strong despite slow start

Jeff LamsonArts & Entertainment Editor

Nicole Dollanganger’s “Heart Shaped Bed” can be a little sonically monotonous at times, but when one is in the right mood for it, there is nothing else like it.

Dollanganger’s music has always been unique, both in terms of lyrical content and the sound itself. Although “Heart Shaped Bed” sticks out of the crowd, within itself, it comes across a little stale in parts, especially on Side A.

The first half of the album was released in March this year and served as a decent preview of what was to come. The second half was released last Friday. Unfortunately, Side A starts sounding a bit formulaic and unadventurous as you work your way towards the title track. The second half feels a lot more diverse in terms of the lyrical and sonic mood, making the whole album feel more like two loosely related extended plays slapped together.

Listeners looking for something to dance to or put them in a good mood should look elsewhere. Dollanganger’s singing barely ever reaches over a whispered falsetto covering uncomfortable content.

The lyrics themselves read like something off of a poetry blog, a little edgey and, without context, cringey. But, the sincerity in Dollanganger’s performance sells the messages about lust, the toxicity of relationships, self-destructive behaviors and in some instances, self-worth.

“Make something gross feel romantic,” Dollanganger sings on the second verse of the title track, “Make me so no one will ever want me again.”

The track does a fantastic job as a thesis statement for the album, which is exactly what a title track should do, definitely elevating the tail end of Side A and probably should have closed the whole project.

The actual closer, “Lacrymaria Olor,” is one of the less exceptional cuts on the album and feels more like a filler track, not leaving the listener as much to think about as some of the others.

Although it is still a good track, one major problem with Side B is track six, “Snake.” Dollanganger’s vocals are way too loud in the mix. It is an overbearing and jarring transition from “Heart Shaped Bed,” and might prompt some listeners to actually turn the volume down a notch or two. Listeners of any album ever should be able to listen to the entire piece on a single volume comfortably.

A stronger moment on the album is the rerecording of the 2016 single, “Chapel.” The production and synth instrumentals sound stronger and more in sync with the rest of the album that the original version would have. Like other tracks on the album, this one comes with a strong sense of imagery, but this is perhaps the strongest.

Track nine, “Only Angels Have Wings,” is a definite favorite. It comes off a little sweeter than others in terms of lyrics, but there is still an acknowledgement of the dangers of devotion. Dollanganger sings about sacrificing freedom and independence to be with someone, limiting lofty pursuits to meet someone on their own level.

“Heart Shaped Bed,” is overall a strong album, but not without lulls in engagement at points. It does not cover the same diversity of topics as Dollanganger’s previous full-length, the fantastic, “Natural Born Losers.” Side A has good moments, but Side B comes off as more enjoyable due to a larger sonic and lyrical diversity, experimenting at times to mostly strong effect.

While not her best work, Nicole Dollanganger continues to prove with “Heart Shaped Bed,” that she can be a talented songwriter, singer with a special something that very few have, but very many should experience.

Photo Credit: Nicole Dollanganger

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