“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe once asked, meditating on one of life’s most perplexing phenomena: the fine line that could exist between reality and fantasy, and between what happens when our eyes are closed and when they are open. We’re programmed to believe that dreams are just that — flashes that occur when we hit the pillow and dissolve into sleep, and let our subconscious take over. But what if we can’t be so sure? What if dreams are more than just snapshots during slumber, or the line between asleep and awake isn’t really a line but a sieve, where one side constantly seeps through to the other?
Nicole Atkins contemplates this unsettling part of human existence on “Sleepwalking,” a new single from her forthcoming LP Goodnight Rhonda Lee, written with Reno Bo. With striking neo-soul horns and orchestration that would make Amy Winehouse proud, Atkins opens by bending the imagination from the get-go. “My past lives have got me weary,” she sings. Is she talking about past experiences or other incarnations? It doesn’t really matter: We’re all haunted by something, wherever it comes from. For Atkins, those ghosts surface in dreams, dreams that mingle with her daily existence. But they carry over into the daytime, too. Sleepwalking doesn’t have to only happen at night, and nightmares are not the only time we live with the weight of our own trials and the shadows of our own mistakes. On “Sleepwalking,” Atkins just makes that nagging psyche sound a little bit sweeter.