Since 2012, Nicole Dollanganger has been able to release five albums, mainly because her music is so simple. All her music requires is some lightly strummed, spacy guitar, and her high-pitched, Grimes-like voice. However, on this album, her commercial debut, her sound gets slightly more fleshed out with the occasional backing band. Overall though, “Natural Born Losers” is still very simple, but that still doesn’t stop it from being a great record.
What makes these very stripped back songs more interesting is the disturbing vibe and setting Nicole stirs up. The guitars provide an eerie atmosphere, especially with the walls of sound on “Alligator Blood,” and her whispery voice, while beautiful and melodic, still is a little bit unsettling. But it is the lyrics that make this album so dark and depressing. Nicole sings about the Southern U.S., but instead of conjuring up images of barbecues, backyard parties, and a good ‘ol Southern mentality, the people in these songs are inbred, on meth, putting rifles in the hands of young children, exposing them to violence, and there’s stories of murder, rape, and torture. (All on the same track: “In the Land.”) Needless to say, this isn’t easy listening, and not because of the musical elements, as they are consistently pretty and melodically pleasing. But the vibe, and the world the songs take place in are disturbing as hell. Put simply, this album has more in common with “Deliverance” or Harmony Korine’s “Gummo,” than with “Forrest Gump.”
It is the deeply unsettling vibe that makes this album stand out, but it is still good musically. It’s not all that original or varied; nearly every song features light and high-pitched vocals backed by atmospheric and gently strummed guitars. But the melodies and chords here are still memorable, even if none of the tracks particularly stand out sound wise. The second track, “Mean,” for example, is actually downright catchy. Now, it moves at a snail’s pace and doesn’t feature a cool backing beat or anything, but the melody here is still gorgeous and somber. In fact, most of these songs are gorgeous, both sound-wise and vocally, even if they are contrasted by some very disturbing themes. However, it’s this intriguing dichotomy that makes “Natural Born Losers” such a great listen.
Standout Tracks: “Poacher’s Pride” “Mean” “Swan” “You’re So Cool”