Nicole Dollanganger, “Married In Mount Airy” 

Released Jan. 6, 2023 

Genre: art pop, slowcore, singer-songwriter 

If her pseudonym’s namesake hadn’t already tipped you off, Nicole Dollanganger is a musician with a love for the macabre and tragic. The Canadian-American songwriter, even from the start of her career making self-released bedroom recordings, sings of abusive men, eating disorders, serial killers, unhappy marriages, poaching angels, and of course, true love. Like a V.C. Andrews novel, her music requires a bit of a warning for any fainthearted listeners. 

Married In Mount Airy isn’t quite as dark as previous releases, though it is still pretty dark. It continues a trend first started on her last album, Heart Shaped Bed — that is, her fascination with vintage weddings. The title of the album refers to the Mount Airy Lodge, a defunct five-star resort in the Poconos, famous for its honeymoon suites, whose closure in 2001 led the owner to commit suicide, leaving its resort spot abandoned in the mountains until it was eventually demolished. It’s not hard to see why a tragedy-lover like Dollanganger would be drawn to a story like this — a once lavish symbol of love and luxury, reduced to a shell of its former glory. The title track sets the tone as she takes the role of a woman recalling her blissful honeymoon, but the pitched-up harmonies and low, moaning backing vocals imply something dark lurking beneath the surface. As it ends, the song seems to crumble away, a reminder of how the wear of time can corrode a once-happy memory. 

The album’s best song, “Nymphs Finding The Head of Orpheus,” continues the theme of dereliction as she sings about a mutually destructive relationship, comparing him to foul rainwater that she willingly drinks knowing she’ll get sick. The guitars, soaked in reverb, evoke the feeling of wading in waist-high water. “Whispering Glades” is a song whose gentle string work and sweet-sounding melody are so captivating that you might miss the lyrics about a manipulative playboy and savoring the thought of him dying someday. “When she wants a garden, you give her a rose / And I bet you’ll have to hide your grin as you watch it die in her arms,” she sings. It paints a clear picture of the exact type of charming, sadistic scumbag that’s so easy to find in show business. When she croons, “Hollywood suits you darling, I think you should stay,” it isn’t a compliment. 

While the best songs feel fully realized, the weakest songs on the album feel like an afterthought. “Dogwood” presents an interesting concept for a song, a woman begging God to spare her reckless, drug-addicted lover, but the song itself doesn’t really develop, and ends on a real “wait, that was it?” note. “Bad Man” starts off with “I wish he didn’t have to die, but he was a bad man,” and doesn’t expand on these themes much further than that. It’s so on the nose for Dollanganger, who has written much more compelling stories about loving awful men in the past, that it ends up feeling like her own songwriting boiled down to its essentials.

Dollanganger is an undoubtedly talented musician who just seems to function better on a smaller scale; she can construct strikingly beautiful songs, but every full-length endeavor lacks the cohesion to make something truly great as a whole listen. 

BEST: Married in Mount Airy, Gold Satin Dreamer, Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, Whispering Glades

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Fitchpork is Berkeley Frost, based in Franklin & Marshall College.

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