What would you expect from a musician who cites as her greatest influences New Jersey’s Shark River during a rain storm and the dark, surreal films of David Lynch? And what would you expect from this same artist if she was also in the midst of major upheaval in both her personal and professional life? After releasing Neptune City, Nicole Atkins severed her relationship with Columbia Records and separated from her band The Sea. Whatever turmoil she experienced in her personal life led her to a new apartment and new batch of songs dripping with remorse and repentance.
Atkins has never fit an easy niche; she’s not a folky singer songwriter nor is she a pop diva although her voice competes with the big-name powerhouse belters. Neptune City featured over-the-top production reminiscent of Phil Specter’s wall of sound and ‘60s girl groups. Not so Mondo Amore; this is a very different album and one that Atkins says she’s wanted to make since she was 12. “I’ve always been into psychedelic and blues music, like Traffic, I call it psychedelic crooner rock!” So there you have it.
Atkins background in the visual arts – she was a muralist – bleeds through in the visceral tone of the music, its chaotic arrangements suggesting the turbulent flux in her life. The lyrics lean toward dark descriptions of mangled relationships and misunderstandings. Take for example “War Is Hell,” “our civil war,” as she states in the lyrics. Jim James lays down opposing tracks to match up with Atkins’ pained strains. Every song details the exhaustion of depression and guilt. The imagery is sometimes violent, angry, and defiant, relaying dangerous emotions and warning against naïve suppositions of love. Even the beautiful ballad “Hotel Plaster” details deceptions of the heart. This track in particular also highlights David Lynch’s influence, as it would fit perfectly with one of his macabre love stories.
Atkins choice of producer Phil Palazzolo is a good one. His past work with New Pornographer prepares him for the kind of aural assault that drives Mondo Amore. Despite her anguished tone Atkins never loses a twisted sense of the dramatic. Her new band, The Black Sea, is a hard rocking unit that benefits from orchestral arrangements that help to soften the edges of scathing rockers.