Nicole Atkins - Slow Phaser | Album Review | By Volume

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Nicole Atkins

Slow Phaser

Groovy, soulful pop music that is a bit all over the place, for better and for worse.

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Author: on April 17, 2014
6.9
Oh Mercy! Records

It seems like Nicole Atkins has been sitting on the periphery of indie-rock and alt-pop recognition for quite some time now. I first became introduced to her impeccable alto amidst the big-band horns of “Solano Avenue”, a cut from the unquestionably-shit Here Lies Love, an album created in collaboration between two otherwise not-shit artists – David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – that was constantly saved by vocal performances of their enlisted guest singers. “Solano Avenue” in specific is probably the only song worth revisiting on that entire double-LP. This is the power Atkin’s voice possesses; even if the backing instrumentals are little more than window dressing, it’s meaningless, as you’re here for that luscious tone. With Slow Phaser, Atkins continues to cultivate this Swiss Army Knife approach to her music. Need a blade? Got that. A fork? Got that too. Screwdriver? Sure! And while these tools perform their purpose, one cannot help feeling like their full-sized counterparts would handle these jobs more efficiently. But there’s something to be said for being this multi-dimensional and adaptable: even if you’re likely to find someone who could do it better, can they do it all at once?

I genuinely feel like Nicole Atkins is one of those types of artist: the rare breed that, for the most part, can tackle any musical aesthetics they attempt to pervade. Opener “Who Killed The Moonlight?” is a saccharine sweet piece of midnight pop, while “Girl You Look Amazing” feels like disco seen through a veil of honky-tonk country. “Sin Song” is a quirkly little folk tune and “The Worst Hangover” is a delightful slice of piano-driven power pop. Then we have “Red Ropes”, a broodingly infectious lounge music tune, bass heavy, and dripping in Atkin’s delicious croon. “Beg for forgiveness / Cry for reprieve / Because these ties that bind don’t come undone, as fast as you’d believe / Beg for a new heart / That breaks but does not bleed / And the red ropes are a vipers nest / You can never leave” she intimates, almost fiendishly. I imagine a coy grin pursing at the edge of Atkin’s lips as she utters these words – this realization that she’s got you, the venom has been injected, and now it’s time to sit back at let the poison seep in.

All of this might sound a bit hyperbolic, as if to insinuate that Slow Phaser is an impeccable collection of music that will sway hearts and be remembered as doctrine, but this is hardly the case. What was once Atkin’s greatest strength as an artist has seemingly become a bit of a setback; it doesn’t matter when you hear her 2007 debut Neptune City - once you listen, it’s difficult not to be excited by Nicole Atkins (or really, by her prospective future self). For years now, she’s been constantly reintroduced to me as an artist with near endless potential. But a lot of Slow Phaser is charmingly mature. “Gasoline Bride” in specific, a recollection of Atkin’s reservations walking down the aisle, is a gorgeous, driving song, one that musically accentuates not only the rush of falling in love but the confidence-killing paranoia one can feel before making any huge life-changing decision.

Yet Atkins is constantly let down by her production. Light, pillowy, and a bit too treble-heavy, the album’s mix tries to push Atkin’s gorgeous voice further to the front, but sounds too clean. Vocal power like hers doesn’t need to be accentuated, it will always overtake the instrumentals. Slow Phaser, far too frequently, does wrong by its creator by providing far too plush a low-end and highs that sound overly pristine, too perfected. With an artist that bounces around stylistically as much as Atkins on Slow Phaser, it does her no justice mixing each song at roughly the same level and pitch. There are changes in key, sure, but you’re more apt to notice the timing and tempo switch on what’s a reasonably bare-bones mix of an otherwise diverse album of delectable pop. Methinks next time, though, maybe a little bit more red tape in the studio, possibly honing the aesthetic a little more (this record really is all over the place) and Nicole Atkins should finally move past her potential and allow us to just appreciate her for what she is: a damn talented singer and songwriter. One who doesn’t always hit home runs, but she’s certainly swinging for the stands each and every pitch.

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