Review: Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

In Greek mythology, there is a river in the Underworld called the River Lethe, which was said to bring forgetfulness to those who drank from it. John Milton wrote about it in Paradise Lost and called it “Lethe, the river of oblivion.” In Little Oblivions, Julien Baker makes the same comparison, but she uses a few more words (and instruments) to do it.

You can buy or stream Little Oblivions on Apple Music.

This time around, Julien starts her story with a relapse, which she talks about in “Hardline”, the second single. The album moves quickly, not pausing for reflection so much, like her past albums have. When I first added Little Oblivions to my most anticipated, we only had “Faith Healer”, a song about church trauma, in a sense, but when wrapped into the album as a whole, it’s more about the idea of searching for a solution. 

I’ve seen my fair share of people who claim they can heal, and maybe when I was younger, I thought it was a feasible idea because it was a normalcy in my religious life. But as years passed and people in my life didn’t receive the healing I thought they deserved, or things generally didn’t turn out the way these (obviously fallible) humans said they would, this aspect of faith began to lose its luster for me. And yet. I understand Julien’s desperation in “Faith Healer” probably better than a lot of folks who have found solace in her music. She longs to believe the way she used to, and so do I.

As a person who deals with depression and anxiety from things in the past that shook me when I was too young to be shaken, the question that Julien asks in “Favor” hit me deeply, because I saw myself: “How long do I have until I’ve spent everyone’s goodwill?” We know our hurts affect those around us, and it’s so hard to get out of our own way. I guess that’s why Julien writes songs about it.

I could write forever on each one of these songs that Julien has offered up, and as I finish typing these paragraphs I’m sitting in my own church parking lot, which I feel is symbolic in some strange way. Every one hit me deeply in places I hadn’t expected. In the final track, when she sings, “Good God / When You gonna call it off? / Climb down off of the cross / And change your mind” I feel like Julien is talking to God about herself.

We have the obvious biblical and religious allusions and implications of Christ freeing Himself from the cross at face value, but I feel like Julien is asking to be free of her cross. The religious upbringing, the lack of acceptance across the board in church, the struggles with addiction — it’s all tied together. It seems like Julien feels she’s been ziptied to this cross and wants out. 

Julien has opened herself here, adding more instruments than we’ve ever seen from her — and she played everything herself. The sheer talent she holds is incredible. She has given us three albums that are pretty close to perfect in a short timespan. What takes many artists decades to accomplish has taken Julien Baker, in a professional sense, six years.

But in a personal sense, Julien begs for forgetfulness. She longs to leave her darkest nights in the past, but she just can’t stop singing about them. It’s like she sits at the mouth of the River Lethe, filling up her cup again and again, only to be met with disappointment. These things stay with her, and so they stay with us.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Julien Baker Brings Healing

Phoebe Bridgers gave me my album of 2020, so her friend Julien Baker has some shoes to fill with Little Oblivions, slated for February 26th. Her gentle instrumentation and grating lyricism in the first single, “Faith Healer” is a great first taste of what we can expect from her third studio album. She plays almost every instrument this time around and I’m interested in hearing her perspective with a richer sound.

Having recently been thrown into an unexpected time of loss, I’m excited for the balm I know Julien’s album will be. Her juxtaposition of religion and reality has always been grounding and a good reminder that it will get better, whatever “better” ends up meaning.

Her music, while deeply personal for her, has been a great source of what I think of as “responsible escapism” — the idea that leaning into media and art that that highlights our emotional state is paramount to healing.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Taylor Swift – evermore

At one point in my life, I was astounded that some of my favorite artists were able to release new albums in back-to-back years. What a naive summer child I was. Taylor Swift’s third album in less than a year-and-a-half is an astounding achievement. The morning it was announced, I almost couldn’t believe that it wasn’t just an album of folklore B-sides. Swift’s ninth studio album, evermore, is its own beast, despite being a sister to this year’s folklore. Although not quite the achievement that folklore felt like at the time, the fact that evermore exists is less impressive than the fact that it is another of Swift’s absolute definitive albums.

You can buy or stream Evermore on Apple Music.

Considering that all of Swift’s records since 2012’s Red have sounded drastically different from each other, the biggest surprise from evermore is that it still holds its own identity despite being a continuation and a sequel album. Keeping most of the elements of folklore’s indie folk songwriting, evermore leans more toward indie pop with more of a polish than its predecessor. Although silence itself seems to act as an instrument at times, it’s less prominent than it was before, even on Lover, leaving an album that stands on its own as much as it highlights the best of Swift. 

Co-written with folklore’s superstar cast of Aaron Dessner of The National (who appear on “coney island”), Jack Antonoff, William Bowery (Joe Alwyn) and Bon Iver, and including an appearance by Haim on the outlaw country song “no body, no crime”, it’s no surprise that evermore follows similar beats to its predecessor. However, where folklore found hope and light throughout its runtime, evermore is more downtrodden. Evermore is folklore’s shadow in substance as well as release date. It may be difficult to see both albums as individuals in the future since they reflect one another in hindsight, somewhat similar to David Bowie’s famed Berlin Trilogy. 

While folklore provided some type of hope in this insane year, evermore shows the tiredness that the world faces 10 months into the pandemic. This is conveyed through the fictionalized stories written for each song, something that was highlighted the most on folklore. Though these stories are darker, they’re no less powerful and harken to the best of country songs, despite only housing a couple of songs that hint at a reflection of her roots. 

Driven by piano and acoustic guitar, evermore finds its footing standing between folklore’s indie vibe and Red’s mixture of pop and country. It captures a more produced effort than folklore, while balancing the sound between a mixture of genres. Although similar in texture, the albums depart in theme and sound just enough to stand apart.

Many songs on evermore reflect the sound of lost loves and the failings of love. Songs like “champagne problems” tell the story if a failed marriage proposal, and people telling the would be groom that the girl suffered from mental problems as a way to explain the outcome (“‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride / what a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said”). 

The deceptively titled “happiness” looks at the life after the destructive ending of what was once considered a great relationship (“Past the curses and cries / Beyond the terror in the nightfall / Haunted by the look in my eyes, that would’ve loved you for a lifetime / Leave it all behind, and there is happiness”). 

Although it’s harder to find standout tracks on the album, such as folklore’s “the last great american dynasty”, those songs still exist. “Marjorie” explores the regret of letting a loved one pass without learning everything they had to teach (“I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be, asked you to write down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt”). 

Evermore is an album that delves into the melancholy just as much as its sister, folklore, delved into the positive. Although not as striking or as distinct as its immediate predecessors, evermore finds its identity by blending the last two albums sonically despite exploring the darkness of relationships. Despite the extensive ground covered in evermore, there is a constant threat of the album always being overshadowed and ultimately lost in Swift’s discography, despite how unique it is.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and longs for the holidays next year, when there is a possibility that enough family members will be vaccinated enough to be able to cough in their eyes. HE WANTS TO COUGH IN EYES!!!

Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Haim – Women in Music Pt. III

“I know alone and I don’t wanna talk about it”, sings Danielle Haim on the bridge of “I Know Alone”; one of many highlights across the 13 tracks of Women in Music Pt. III. It’s a line that resounds for anyone that knows the kind of depression that Danielle and her sisters Alana and Este spend time processing throughout their third full-length album. It’s a line that feels poignantly un-forced and authentic – one of the great strengths of the band.

You can buy or stream Women in Music Pt. III on Apple Music.

But for all their ability to translate those feelings in such relatable words and sounds, this third offering from Haim has so many other notes to play. Make no mistake – Women in Music Pt. III is easily the band’s darkest offering, but the way in which it gets playful and creative in those valleys is what truly sets them apart.

Haim caught my attention with their 2013 debut Days Are Gone, largely for the way in which they seemed to be winking at the camera in the subtlest of ways. The video for my favorite track from that album, “If I Could Change Your Mind”, seems to find the band blatantly leaning into common visual tropes for female-fronted pop music without ever feeling like you’re supposed to laugh at the joke. The same could be said of this current album title.

And maybe laughter isn’t the right response anyway. On the stripped-down “Man from the Magazine”, the band explores the ways in which the industry at large has treated the trio (and assuredly so many other women). “Man from the music shop, I drove too far / For you to hand me that starter guitar”, Danielle sings on the same track that ends its chorus with, “You expect me to deal with it / ‘Til I’m perfectly numb / But you don’t know how it feels”.

Even the booty call intro of “3 AM” feels perfectly douchy, coupled with lines like, “But I’m picking up for the last time”, delivered with an inferred, resigned sigh. The track crackles with R&B influence not felt this robustly since “My Song 5” from the band’s debut.

The creativity in which Haim explore these myriad themes across Women in Music Pt. III is why you could argue it as the band’s best work. The glitchy electronics of “I Know Alone” sound fresh and moody. The sliding guitar work of “FUBT” rightfully comes to the front of the mix, at times covering Danielle’s vocals. 

Other tracks like single “The Steps” and “I’ve Been Down” are driven by the jangly, folk-rock guitars that occupy the band’s wheelhouse and feel familiar and inviting in this context. The album meanders sonically from the track to track, just as its lyrics spill across subjects, much like a 45-minute session with your therapist.

It’s the kind of imaginative songwriting that felt missing from Something to Tell You, the band’s long-awaited 2017 sophomore effort. That album showcased the sisters’ uncanny ability to write exceptional songs, but lacked the unique, tongue-in-cheek personality that sets Haim apart from any of their contemporaries. The lack of restraint felt on Women in Music Pt. III is an exciting reminder of what we all felt Haim was capable of upon the release of Days Are Gone.

The fact that such a personal and specific work of art could feel so relatable and intimate to so many, in so many different ways, makes Haim one of the most essential bands of the past decade.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

It’s that time of the year again, folks. Time for us to painstakingly take apart another album by The 1975, this time titled Notes On a Conditional Form. Matty Healy and friends have given another long album, featuring 22 tracks and clocking in at about an hour and a half. It’s got seven more tracks than its sister album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, and it continues the band’s story of learning to step away from our intensely connected world.

You can buy or stream Notes on a Conditional Form on Apple Music.

The album begins with the eponymous track “The 1975”, but instead of the usual reworking of the same lyrics like the past three albums, Notes switches it up. We are given a spoken word from climate activist Greta Thunberg, including lines from her powerful “Our House Is On Fire” speech. It’s a strange way to start the album, given that the rest of it barely touches on the subject, but it’s another example of how the band has changed from a Top 40 staple to a group of people who genuinely want to change the world with their art.

The album continues with “People”, which was the lead single and released last August. This has been a long album cycle — the album was delayed twice. It continues the theme from Thunberg’s introduction, featuring a call to action and the end of apathy. It also takes us back to the early days of a more punk rock 1975, modernizing it with scathingly political lyrics.

To their merit, this album is more meat than potatoes for me. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was revolutionary when it was released, and yet as I listened to it over the year it’s been out, it became lacking for me. In Notes, the band has really figured out what they want to say and how they want to say it. With the addition of more fun tracks like “Me & You Together Song” (a personal highlight) and “Guys”, the album feels more personal and complete.

A Brief Inquiry and Notes are not recreational albums. Notes is almost there and is inherently easier to listen to, but I know I’ll still cherry pick. I wonder what would happen if The 1975 could write an entire album without feeling the need to fill it up with instrumentals. When I listen to the band when I’m in the car, I go for their self-titled or I like it when you sleep.

For a band who is so obsessed with making change, they’re sometimes stuck in a formula. If you listen to any of their albums, it’s evident, even so far as using pieces of past music — see I like it when you sleep’s “Please Be Naked” and Notes’ “The End (Music for Cars)”. Their need to stick to their formula is almost religious, and I feel that sometimes, though sacrificing continuity, it would be beneficial to really break away from what they’ve previously done.

All in all, Notes On a Conditional Form is set to be an album of the year contender for many. The idea that we can use music to foster conversation is something that The 1975 does well, and I’m grateful that they’ve chosen to use their platform in this way.

4/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

We have been blessed. We have been given a gift. The entirety of Petals for Armor is here for us to enjoy and drink in, and I am beside myself with how incredible it is. I wrote about the first third of the album earlier this year, and I didn’t know how the rest of the album would play out based on it, but it completely surpassed anything I expected and hoped for. It’s experimental, it’s exciting, it’s fresh. It’s Hayley.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor on Apple Music.

I spoke a lot in my first piece about the femininity I loved about the project. That concept is woven through the rest of the album in shows of vulnerability, strength, and the journey Hayley took to find peace after so many years. The album was split into three parts purposefully, but ended up coinciding with the changing seasons both literally and metaphorically. The first part of the album made me so upset for Hayley and the turmoil she faced, but by the end of Part III, it’s evident that it’s in the past. So much of womanhood is putting up a front for others and always being available and subservient, but Hayley has managed to find a balance here, specifically showcased in “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”. It’s uplifting and inspiring.

The middle of the album (Part II, technically) ended up being my favorite. I identified heavily with this transition period she found herself in. She’s over the rage from Simmer” and has moved from the past. I feel like so much of human life is spent in that transition period. We go from the naivety of infancy and childhood to the confusion of teenage years to the heaviness of adulthood. As someone who’s still kind of in that teenager-to-adult transition and, quite frankly, moved from the former to the latter rather quickly, the middle of the album, especially “Why We Ever”, hit me harder than the rest. 

The final third of the album is gorgeous. It’s a culmination of everything she’s experienced thus far. It’s beautiful to see her at this raw place where she’s honest about where she’s been and how she got past the harder times of her life. She’s been able to begin shedding the parts of her that she’s ashamed of, and ends up bringing us the most hopeful body of music in her career.

The visual interlude she released between the “Simmer” and “Leave It Alone” videos is the album perfectly packaged up. She has been in a cocoon for so long, dealing with the decisions she’s made in her life, and she finally has been able to emerge as something bright and refreshed. Hayley has also done an insane amount of press over this cycle, and that’s not something we should take for granted. She’s more open than ever, and Petals for Armor is an invitation for us to be the same.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

In our BandCamp-led indie scene these days, there’s been a swell of success that would otherwise leave us with a deficit in the alt scene. The underground has bloomed like never before due to the independent release era we’ve found ourselves in for the last decade. One of the shining stars of the movement is Sophie Allison, who calls her project Soccer Mommy.

You can buy or stream Color Theory on Apple Music.

I first heard about Soccer Mommy in the process of making a playlist of new and notable women in music. I then had the chance to see her play when she opened for Paramore in the summer of 2018, but missed it because we had a four hour drive to New Hampshire. I’d love to catch her show the next time she’s in Boston, though, because the fact is, missing her set made me fully listen to her discography. My favorite album ended up being 2018’s Clean, but her latest album, Color Theory, may have taken precedence.

I’m a sucker for music with a strong theme, whether it be a true concept album or just an album with a great sense of continuity. Sophie Allison has chosen to create this album around synesthesia, with the colors in question being blue, yellow, then grey. She said in an interview that blue represents depression, yellow represents anxiety, yet positivity, and grey represents death and loss.

This all makes more sense when you learn that her mother has been ill for a long time. Many of the tracks, including the single “yellow is the color of her eyes”, deal with this fact. She has managed to wrap these emotions in a soft, lo-fi pop sound, which makes it an easy listen. But there’s no denying that this album isn’t meant to be played on Top 40. It’s an honest expression from a young woman who has been put through life’s wringer — from her mom’s illness to her own long struggle with mental illness.

Allison holds nothing back from the beginning to the end of the album. Each track is meticulously placed to further tell the story of this chapter in her life. On “bloodstream” she sings, “Happiness is a firefly / On summer free evenings / Feel it slipping through my fingers / But I can’t catch it in my hands”. 

These sentiments are rampant through the album — a potent loss of hope — but the real kicker on the album is “royal screw up”. She sings in an almost a childlike way, remembering being young and wanting to be a princess. She has since come to believe that she’s the “princess of screwing up,” but she also has a sense of confidence in herself. It’s a feeling women are all too familiar with — the dichotomy of not needing anyone but yourself to further your success but also desperately wanting to be appreciated and needed for who you are.

On surface level, we’ve received a soft offering of a girl who’s dealt with too much in her short life (she’s my age). But digging deeper, we get a bigger picture of a person trying to rise above these hardships, trying to work through them and come out on the other side. She’s an Alanis for the new age, grappling constantly with the way she wishes her world was better, but still managing to find a bright side. Sophie Allison has painted an incredible picture of humanity with Color Theory, and I can tell it’s an album I’ll be thinking about for a while.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor I

UPDATE: Petals for Armor is here! Check out our review of the full album.

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve heard from Paramore. They signed off on their socials in mid-December after completing the After Laughter album cycle and settled in for some much deserved time off. But it didn’t take long for vocalist Hayley Williams to announce on December 27th via Twitter that she would be releasing “something I’m going to call my own.” Fast forward to now and we have the first half of her’ solo project: Petals for Armor I.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor I on Apple Music.

For all the talk over the years of how the world would change if Hayley went solo, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen Petals for Armor coming. A mix of the 80’s-influenced sound Paramore adopted in 2017 is here but it doesn’t overtake it. Hayley clearly used After Laughter as a bridge for this next musical chapter to get us used to a lighter pop sound. But make no mistake – this is a Hayley Williams production.  

The EP begins with the first single released on January 22nd, “Simmer”. Should I have written some Queue It Ups about the two main singles we got? Maybe, but I didn’t. “Simmer” is, in a word, scathing. We know a few details on how everything went down with Chad Gilbert and the end of their relationship, and we all know that Chad Gilbert is the definition of a scumbag, but hearing Hayley say that she would protect her children from a man like him is really eye-opening and devastating. And yet, through this anger, she asks how to still have and show mercy.

Through themes of her divorce, family struggles, mortality, and the confusion of beginning a new relationship, we have the underlying vein of femininity in Petals for Armor I. She sings about being at home in “Cinnamon”, my personal favorite track, and how she is unapologetically herself there. As a woman, it’s a refreshing project, like so much of Hayley’s past work.

To hear someone reckon with these feelings in society that tries to tell women to quiet down is both heartbreaking and reassuring. There’s nothing that makes me feel more beautiful than cleaning and decorating my apartment, as cliché as that may be. Pulling a cookbook from my stack to make dinner, dusting the trinkets on my TV stand as I think fondly of the person who gave them to me, or lighting a candle are the things that make me “me.” There’s such a lack of domesticity and hospitality displayed in our society and to hear Hayley highlight that allows me to feel pleasure in simply sitting down to read a book in the home that I’ve created for myself. It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but it’s the track that stood out to me the most.

I’m excited for this new chapter for Hayley, because I feel like she has been held down by a lot of things in her career. The second half of Petals for Armor is set to be released on May 8th, unless Ms. Williams has other surprises in store for us.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana Del Rey is America’s queen. She’s an expert in mixing the modern with the retro. Her cinematic take on Americana remains fresh with each release and Norman F*****g Rockwell is no different. 

While initially very skeptical of Lana’s brand, these days, I call myself a die-hard fan. Born to Die came to me in a time where I was really desperate to branch out and I had started to really look at women in music and embracing artists like Marina Diamandis and Lorde. My background in music is very male oriented, and I listened to a lot of rock and indie bands – genres that, in the mid 2000s, were generally devoid of female talent. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a personal goal that I openly support women in music. So I started listening to Lana Del Rey.

You can buy or stream Norman Fucking Rockwell on Apple Music.

My favorite thing about her music is how she seamlessly moves from genre to genre and era to era. She’ll have Jazz Age influences in one track and then in the next it’s like you’ve been transported to Woodstock. I’ve always had a thing for oldies, and the fact that she can pull it off so authentically has always intrigued me. With each album, I feel like we’re moving further in time, and with Norman F*****g Rockwell, we’re arrived in the late 70s, early 80s.

It opens with the title track, one of the softer, but no less hard hitting, songs on the album. Her goal with the album is to draw parallels, something she does through referencing pop culture. She said of the title in an interview with Vanity Fair that, “[She and Jack Antonoff, they] just joke  around constantly about all the random headlines [they] might see that week…but it’s not a cynical thing, really. To [her], it’s hopeful, to see everything as a little bit funnier.”

With that being said, the album isn’t necessarily lighthearted. I would argue that it’s her most personal album yet, from the line in “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” where she refers to an interview she did where the publication titled it, “I wish I was dead already.” To use such a statement as a way to get clicks isn’t fair, and the actual context of what she said has nothing to do with any of those sentiments. 

The album gets more personal about her career than any of the previous five albums before it, but it also pushes the envelope of that career more than the other albums as well. One of the singles, “Venice B***h”, is almost 10 minutes long, and is one of the best tracks on the album. I know I often say this about female artists, but she’s not afraid (and has never been afraid) to take control of her creativity. I feel like that’s because women have to work 50 times as hard to gain any artistic control at all, so the best way is to just keep all of your decisions close, and it’s something that, as unfortunate of a concept as it is, makes for the most authentic and raw music. She’s set the precedent of having complete control, which at the end of the day, gives her the most freedom.

This album is the culmination of everything she’s done up until now. From a little bit of the jazz influence seen in her first two albums, to the transparent lyricism from 2017’s Lust for Life, we have little pieces of each of her past releases showcased here. The closer, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have, but I Have It”, is the most poignant of all of her closers. She’s brought everything full circle. Throughout all the difficulties in her life and career she’s still always believed in her art and keeping her creative license. And that’s what makes Norman F*****g Rockwell explosive.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.