‘Neptune City’ a surreal treat

Joe Shearer

Courtesy Big Hassel

Credit: Ron Soltys

Nicole Atkins and the Sea

Neptune City

Released by Columbia Records

Stater rating (out of five): ****

It’s difficult to talk about Nicole Atkins and the Sea without words like “surreal” or “cinematic” entering into the conversation because, quite frankly, the music isn’t made for this world. To classify the group is like trying to label a David Lynch film. Yes, you can describe the mood and the feelings you experienced throughout, but it doesn’t fit so nicely into one genre.

Atkins’ debut album, Neptune City, plays like an elaborate 39-minute movie. Songs like “Kill the Headlights” and “Cool Enough” are so expressive and full of reverb, you may just have an out-of-body experience. The title track is a more low-key number in which Atkins’s mesmerizing vocals carry the song. That’s not to discount the music, which sounds like Danny Elfman composed an opening credits theme to a James Bond film.

The string arrangements never sound better than on the beautifully haunting epic, “The Way It Is,” which the band performed on the “Late Show With David Letterman” the day the album was released. Again, Atkins’ singing — at times cool and smooth, at other times longing and mournful — adds new dimensions to the already dreamy atmosphere.

Early Elvis Costello influences emerge in the upbeat, piano-driven songs “Maybe Tonight” and “Love Surreal,” while easily standing on their own as original, bound-to-be-classics.

One of the nice things about Neptune City is while it follows a certain formula, it still has the ability to surprise the listener with something like “Brooklyn’s On Fire,” which rocks out with distorted, electric guitars before moving to a goosebump-inducing lullaby refrain.

Perhaps the most mainstream of all the songs is the album closer, “Party’s Over.” It first appeared on an American Express commercial featuring Atkins and her band running into mishaps while touring. The pop-rock track would probably be placed much higher on any other artist’s album, but where a number of tunes on Neptune City are potential “last” songs, “Party’s Over” is a cool little surprise at the end of the road.

Though not perfect, Neptune City is more than a great album (which is hard enough to achieve these days), it’s a great, memorable soundtrack.

Contact all correspondent Joe Shearer at [email protected].