On this very promising debut EP, New Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins and her backing band the Sea craft pop music that is both sophisticated and sweet, while cultivating enough alt-cool to appeal to fans of Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, and Nellie McKay (one caveat: Atkins plays acoustic guitar, not piano). Although only six songs long, Bleeding Diamonds is more engrossing than a shed-full of garden-variety 12-cut albums that cover the same ground track after track. Atkins, on the other hand, marks new territories within her compositions, with sweeping synth strings and her own soaring vocals skirting showtune cheesiness, but touching down safely in the land of good taste. Her theatricality, on bookending tracks “Bleeding Diamonds” and the stunning, Edward Scissorhands-y “Neptune City”, is actually more reminiscent of Maria McKee’s recent albums, although Atkins is less ragged, with twinkling glockenspiels instead of gritty guitars. The four songs in between are 1960s-sounding pop songs, sprinkled with Kurt Weill and, in the delightfully dizzying “Delora”, scales that descend and ascend in skewed Escheresque congruity. Atkins writes literate lyrics and catchy songs with complex turns. She uses a little dusting of magic here, too. Currently recording her full-length debut, Atkins is aiming for a spring 2007 release. A fantastic preview track on her website, “Skywriters”, points toward more great things to come from Nicole. For now, we have Bleeding Diamonds, and it is, well, a gem.
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