A neon noir tour de force of hi-def late-night pop, Slow Phaser marks
Nicole Atkins’ most ingenious and indelibly modern collection to date.
Produced by Tore Johannson – with whom she partnered on her now-classic
2007 debut, Neptune City – the album is a milestone for the acclaimed
singer/songwriter, her restless creativity fully realized via the
addition of some surprising colors to her already diverse paintbox.
Songs like the poptastic “Girl You Look Amazing” and the sultry “Red
Ropes” positively swirl with day-glo danceability, the bright hues
setting Atkins’ distinctive creative voice in a brilliant and undeniable
new light. Bittersweet yet life affirming, Slow Phaser is Nicole Atkins
at her confident and unpredictable best – spirited, sexy, and
determinedly forward thinking.
“I wanted to make something that no one’s ever heard before,” she says,
A charismatic and committed live performer, Atkins followed 2011’s
adventurous Mondo Amore with a long year on the road. Upon her return,
the New Jersey-based artist began to rethink her overall approach.
Atkins went on creative walkabout, visiting various musician friends
across the country and starting a productive collaboration with veteran
drummer/producer Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Cramps,
Teenage Jesus & The Jerks). The two clicked immediately, penning three
songs on the very first day they set to work.
“Jim really helped me articulate a lot of what I was feeling,” she says.
“He helped me make the things I was writing sound more like when I just
wrote songs for myself. He taught me a lot about writing… again.”
Luckily – or perhaps not – she was in Memphis when Hurricane Sandy
wreaked its havoc on the Jersey Shore and her familial home.
“It was awful,” she says. “The whole first floor was flooded, we didn’t
have power for 18 days. Everything is pretty much back now, but its
different. Everybody in the town aged a lot this year.”
As she pondered her next move, fate rang long distance. Hearing of her
recent travails, her old producer Tore Johansson – known for his work
with Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans, and many others – invited Atkins to
come record at his residential Malmц, Sweden studio.
“He said, ‘As soon as you can get here, get here,’” she says. “It was
the perfect double whammy. Here was someone who was going to help me
make my record and give me a place to live.”
Atkins packed up two years of songs, poetry, and journals, not to
mention the hundreds of beat-based musical ideas stored on her iPhone.
With Johansson’s able assistance, she devised a compelling new sonic
approach, melding psychedelic energy, prog rock adventurism, after hours
disco ambience, and the raw emotional purity of the finest country soul.
Atkins stripped her traditional instrumentation to its core – Johansson
handled bass duties, joined by The Cardigans’ Lars-Olaf Johansson on
guitar, keyboardist Martin Gjerstad, and Asbury Park’s own Sam Bey
behind the drum kit – placing considerably more emphasis on electronics
than on her previous recordings.
“It sounds large but not cluttered,” she says. “We only used four
instruments and tracked everything live. Instead of layering on a bunch
of strings and horns and bells, the idea was to try to make everything
have such complex melodies that they fit together like a puzzle. Every
little bit counts.”
The result is remarkably vivid and varied, with songs like the opening
“Who Killed The Moonlight?” blazing with transcendent pop hooks and
floor-filling rhythms unlike anything Atkins has done before. She
further pushed her songwriting by penning a series of wry, candid songs
casting a mordant eye at pretentious boyfriends (“It’s Only Chemistry”),
ponderous hipsters (“Cool People”), and the endless highway that is her
perpetual home (“Gasoline Bride”). Slow Phaser comes to its poignant
emotional close with “The Worst Hangover” – replete with images of
shattered disco balls glittering on the storm swept Jersey shoreline –
and the sparse, powerful “Above As Below,” which finds our heroine alone
at sea, “surrendering to the void, just me, seagulls, and the gods.” A
committed believer in the enduring power of the album-as-art form,
Atkins embraced a classically tripartite sequencing inspired by
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s notorious psychotropic western, El Topo.
“When it starts out, the protagonist is really cocky and sure of himself
and makes terrible decisions without thinking about the repercussions,”
she says. “In the second part, he has everything taken away and is
really put in his place. Then, in the end, he accepts it and tries to
find spiritual meaning in order to be a better person.”
Atkins plans to release Slow Phaser on her own Oh’Mercy! Records, an
assertion of ownership that embraces her ever fervent fanbase, who
helped fund the project through a successful PledgeMusic campaign. In
addition, the always ambitious artist plans to indulge her defiantly
prog dreams with the most theatrical live performances of her career
“I’m going to wear a cape and shoot lasers out of my hands,” she says.
Inventive and irresistible, Slow Phaser positively radiates with
idiosyncrasy and a palpable sense of fully empowered musical discovery.
“It’s taken me a while to figure out who I really am,” Nicole Atkins
says. “Musically, and as a person. It’s constantly changing. I’m not
just this one character. I’m an artistic person trying to figure shit