“When she wants a garden, you give her a rose”

A Married in Mount Airy Album Review

After a five-year gap since 2018’s Heart Shaped Bed, Ontario gothic indie singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger’s new album Married in Mount Airy sounds like a little girl’s ghost leading you through the doll section of an abandoned moonlit antique shop. A 44-minute front-to-back listen was a gorgeous, albeit familiar, ride through a love’s honeymoon highs and bittersweet lows. As a longtime fan who watched her go from an unknown cover artist to opening for Lana Del Rey in 2015, this album is less of an evolution and more a refinement of her distinctive sound.

Beginning her music career at age 19 in her bedroom while battling anorexia, she produced music for a growing Tumblr-based cult following. Her elegant, child-like voice vividly painted portraits of eating disorders, abuse, and irreparably broken relationships in the songs “Angels of Porn,” “In the Land,” and “American Tradition,” respectively. Nobody sounds quite like her. Half her discography merits a trigger warning. No matter the subject, her music is always sincere. These songs resonated so hard because she felt like one of us. I discovered her through a haunting cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” in 2019 and have been happily (miserably) wandering that antique shop ever since. 

The title track opens the new album with creepy instrumentals and delay-heavy vocals. Dollanganger’s lyrics imagine a picturesque vision of the past surrounded by subdued darkness, bleeding onto the dusty wedding dresses and grainy photographs that make up the world she lulls us into. The standout tracks are “Gold Satin Dreamer” and “Whispering Glades.” Both released as singles. The former a hypnotic love song with sinister undertones in the lines “All of those dreams left out in the sun/They run like syrup and clot like blood/Disfigured beyond recognition.” The overdubbed vocals are a wonderful touch. The latter is a beautifully spiteful eulogy from a scorned lover with a chorus catchier than Covid. Other standouts are “Dogwood,” “Bad Man,” and “Sometime After Midnight.”

“Whispering Glades” released in April 2021. It made me eagerly anticipate new directions this album could be taking. The acoustic guitar and strings used across nearly every track create an immersive, cohesive production, though I would have preferred the songs to feel more distinct from each other, thematically and musically. Her seminal 2015 album Natural Born Losers captured a broader range of themes with heavy electric guitar climaxes. It represented a young artist breaking out of her comfort zone established over four homemade albums. Heart Shaped Bed was less experimental. Married in Mount Airy sees Dollanganger settle into her comfort zone: ethereal vocals over gentle acoustic guitars, piano, and strings. The lyrics are far less gory than before, reflecting an attempt at mainstream appeal. However, as she sings in “Whispering Glades,” “Hollywood suits you, darling, I think/you should stay,” the new sound fits like a coffin, though I wonder how long it will stay fresh.