Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club

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Lana Del Rey has had a pretty big year. Coming down from the high of 2019’s Norman F’ing Rockwell, to the release of her first book, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass”, it’s safe to say that these are her prime years. In Chemtrails Over the Country Club, she continues to ride the wave and has given us a great new collection of stories.

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You can buy or stream Chemtrails Over the Country Club on Apple Music.

The album starts off with a song that I consider to be a little bit of a misfit. Stylistically, I know what she’s doing – reflecting on her days before fame and wondering whether all of this has been worth it, but in execution, it comes off as kind of awkward. It feels like a strange way to start an otherwise engaging body of work. Admittedly, it does fit, but I don’t know… I guess I would’ve made it the final track. I’m not Lana though, so who cares what I think.

I like the fact that this album is shorter and more fully fleshed out than Norman was. I felt like that album dragged itself out and while it was a great album, it would’ve done well as a two album project, at least according to my attention span. Chemtrails is certainly a winding road, but we end at a destination, there’s no ground left to cover here. It’s a return to the music I think she has always been wanting to make, even before becoming Lana Del Rey.

I really like this iteration of Lana. She’s secure in her choice of grassroots, homage-to-Joanie-Mitchell romanticization of the 70s. So secure in fact, that she covered one of Mitchell’s songs as the final track. And despite all of her various media controversies, we always know where her heart lies because of her songwriting. This album is a love letter to the people she loves. 

A vein that has always run through her music is the wish to return to a time before fame, to return to anonymity. But Lana can’t stay out of the spotlight. Even as I’m writing this, a day after Chemtrails released, she announced yet another album, Rock Candy Sweet with a date of June 1st. For a gal who seems obsessed with wanting a house in the middle of nowhere, she seems to like being famous an awful lot. She is stuck between wanting to stay exactly where she is, and returning to her roots and re-becoming Lizzy Grant. Listening to the B-sides and original recordings, we can see her trying to do exactly that, but when coupled with the flashy visuals like the title track’s music video, there’s a strange juxtaposition. Which side of her art is she willing to give up?

If Norman F’ing Rockwell was Lana Del Rey’s tribute to Americana, then Chemtrails Over the Country Club is where she has crossed over completely. Gone are the days of an insecure bar singer, and in her place is a woman who knows where she’s been, where she is, and where she wants to end up. All we have to do is get in the passenger seat and buckle up. For better or for worse, Lana has our attention.

4.5/5

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: Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

As soon as I saw Hayley Williams announce that she was releasing a second album, I was sure I wanted to talk about it. But even in writing this now, I’m still thinking about how I want to approach Flowers for Vases / Descansos, an album completely different from last year’s pop fest that was Petals for Armor. It even took me a couple of days to work up the courage to listen to it in its entirety. This is not Petals, it’s not Paramore. This is the forced cracking of a geode, and whether there are gems inside still remains to be seen.

You can buy or stream Flowers for Vases / Descansos on Apple Music.

For once in my tenure with Hayley Williams as a songwriter and musician, I don’t find myself in her words. Maybe that’s a good thing. If you thought Petals was an intense and honest look at her struggles, then you’re not prepared for Flowers for Vases. I wonder if her wild way of promoting the album is a shield for how nerve wracking it must’ve been to release something so wildly personal.

The first thing I took a look at before listening to the album was the word “descansos” that she uses in the title. “Descanso” is the Spanish word for “place of rest,” and colloquially, it has come to mean the devastatingly lonely crosses on the side of the highway marking the scene of and commemorating the death of a loved one. 

The reason for tacking this onto the title is evident in every track of the album, most notably to me “The First Thing to Go”, but it also colored the way the album sounds. Yes, it’s a moody, acoustic take on the Petals for Armor subject matter, but it reminds me so much of classical Spanish guitar music, and I refuse to believe anything but it being a clear choice Hayley made.

This album is a lot of things. It’s subtle, it’s heart wrenching, it’s raw. I want this to finally be a turning point for Hayley. It wasn’t evident when Petals was released, but the fanfare of that album, the synth and the soaring vocals, was still a way she was holding things back and keeping them tucked away. It’s her right to do, it’s her story and her path to healing, but with Flowers for Vases, it seems she has finally accepted that not only is there more work to be done, but there is a different way she needs to approach it. 

Flowers for Vases is yet another jewel in Hayley Williams’ crown. Mined from hurt and years of pain and emotional neglect, this jewel sits toward the back, hidden from view, and it is sharp and can cut. Yet the crown wouldn’t be complete without it.

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: Weezer – OK Human

To be a modern Weezer fan is to approach each new release with a sense of skepticism. Having made their mark in rock early on, the band has spent the last decade or so really trying something new with each album. While some incredible success has come from this, there have also been some massive misses. OK Human, the band’s surprise release is a resounding success. The album fundamentally alters the core Weezer sound while retaining their signature mark, analyzes the feeling of passing your prime and still manages to feel fun and goofy. OK Human verges on being the landmark Weezer album none of us knew we wanted.

You can buy or stream OK Human on Apple Music.

OK Human is an indie album in all regards, ditching anything close to the guitar sound associated with Weezer in favor of a full orchestra. It’s odd then that the album’s sound seems to rest comfortably somewhere between Pinkerton’s confessional style of songwriting and The Red Album’s escapism.

The fact that it took the band this long to release a stripped back album seems detrimental in retrospect. Drummer Patrick Wilson stands out more than anyone else, as his relaxed percussion takes center stage without the distraction of guitars (“Numbers”). Meanwhile, Brian Bell’s keyboards and Scott Shriner’s bass sound completely new in the context of being part of an orchestra (“Dead Roses”). For his part, singer and primary songwriter Rivers Cuomo sounds at home against the gentler sound. Although he never truly pushes his voice, he finds gracious melodies that fit the softer tone of these songs (“Bird With a Broken Wing”).

For its part, the orchestral backing does a shockingly adept job of performing a pop melody for the bigger, Weezer-esque songs (“All My Favorite Songs”) and an appropriate tension for darker, more thematic tracks (“Dead Roses”). For being one of the more distinctive steps outside of Weezer’s comfort zone, the orchestra does an amazing job of finding the perfect balance between a new sound and the brisk balance of pop tracks.

At its best, OK Human is a study of finding one’s place in an ever evolving world that only sees the value of your past accomplishments. The most straightforward song on this topic is “Bird With a Broken Wing” as Rivers sings “Long ago, I was flying in the air / Looking at the sea below / I was hunting to kill”, before lamenting, “I’m just a bird with a broken wing / And this beautiful song to sing / Don’t feel sad for me, I’m right where I wanna be”.

While other songs tackle the same issue, such as “La Brea Tar Pits” (“Cause I’m sinking in the La Brea Tar Pits / And I don’t want to die cause there’s still so much to give”), others examine it in indirect ways. “Screens” looks at a world lacking human contact as Cuomo sings “Now the real world is dying / As everybody moves into the cloud. / Can you tell me where we’re going?”

OK Human also sees some of the best lyricism Cuomo has written in quite some time. “Dead Roses” traces the sorrow of what an imagined relationship verses what it actually is in brutal, haunting poetry (“Lamplight falls, and casts a laughing phantom / I imagine your smile and the life that we could share / But with the last of my steps, I see the truth lying there”).

Another recurring theme, the struggle to adjust to an ever increasing world reliant on technology appears early on, with much more straightforward prose. “Numbers” tackles the depression of social media and the obsession with being seen (“Look at him, look at her, they’ve got a million likes / … / Numbers are out to get you”).

Where OK Human falters is when Cuomo seems to almost stop trying to find the perfect allegory to what he wants to say, and instead just blurts out whatever is in front of him at the time, including several tech services that may ultimately date the album to an extremely specific period in time. “Playing My Piano”, a catchy song about losing himself in music, is hampered by extremely stagnant lyricism (“My wife is upstairs, my kids are upstairs / … / I should get back to these Zoom interviews, but I get so absorbed and time flies”).

“Grapes of Wrath”, an ingenious song idea about relaxing while listening to audiobooks, stumbles in the chorus as it sounds like an advertisement more than a heartfelt ode (“I’m gonna rock my Audible / Headphones, Grapes of Wrath, drift off to oblivion”).

Slightly more focused, OK Human could have been the next legendary Weezer album. That said, it’s still an incredible work of art that mostly succeeds at its experimentation. In terms of Weezer’s discography, it sounds distinct and vibrant, and oddly seems to stand amongst the louder of the band’s legendary catalog. If nothing else, it proves that Weezer still have so much left so say.

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 accidentally drank from a water glass he remembered he saw his cat drink from 20 minutes beforehand as he gulped it down. He drank cat water. He is now know as, “Cat Mouth.”

Most Anticipated of 2021: Lorde Travels to New Heights

Here is my biggest secret-not-a-secret of the past three years: I need Lorde to come back and grace us with another electro pop masterpiece. She was robbed of her Album of the Year by Bruno Mars (I wanted to jump through the TV and pull a Kanye, not gonna lie) after 2017’s Melodrama, and we have waited with bated breath to see what she would do next. 

She announced in November that she was releasing a book, Going South, a travel journal inspired by her trip to Antarctica in 2019, and one can’t help but wonder when a new album will follow. It sold out before I could even look at the preorder page, but I intend to pick it up when I can.

The proceeds for the book are going to fund a scholarship. I didn’t fully appreciate what we had in Lorde when Pure Heroine came out; I figured she would be another one-album-pop-star, but her music truly transcends genre, and I now consider her music timeless.

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: Panic! At the Disco Claim the Dancefloor

It’s been almost three years since Panic! At the Disco released the absolutely stellar Pray For The Wicked, but Brendon Urie isn’t one to sit idle for too long. Coming off the high of what is arguably Panic’s best record, it’s hard to imagine that anything can top Pray For The Wicked. 

Fortunately though, Brendon Urie is full of surprises. Having brought Panic! back from the brink of collapse, expanded the band’s sound in unimaginable ways and lifted the group to become one of the world’s biggest acts over the last decade, he isn’t one to take lightly. With each album carrying a distinct and unique persona and sound, it’s hard not to be excited for whatever comes next.

Panic! At the Disco is a band that universally delivers in a way that almost no other musical act can. Whatever Urie has planned for the band’s seventh album, it’s destined to once again push the band’s boundaries and force other pop acts to up their game just to keep up.

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 sneezed, then his cat sneezed, then he sneezed again. A sign of the end times or just exceptional timing between man and beast? The answer, is yes.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Kacey Musgraves Shines Bright

We’re coming up on two years since the release of Golden Hour, the country pop masterpiece from Kacey Musgraves. Met with acclaim from almost every angle, Golden Hour was an album whose warmth and hope was a much needed respite at the time. Honestly, its tone would have felt out of place in 2020, and I only recently returned it in the past month as we prepare to (hopefully) come up for air in the coming spring.

And if the chips fall right, 2021 could be the perfect time for a follow up. Fans were treated to a very vague but straightforward tease last August when Musgraves chose to entertain a fan’s questioning on Twitter:

Since the release of Golden Hour, Musgraves has not only become a welcome voice for progress on every platform she graces, but has become an unexpected feature guest across tracks by everyone from The Flaming Lips to Troye Sivan. Once an outsider amidst the curmudgeonly country crowd, Musgraves has not only won over many a country music gatekeeper, but has become one of the most exciting voices in all of pop.

So what comes next? 2021 will be interesting in its artistic output from every angle, to say the least, but the world is Musgraves’ oyster at this point. Will she dive deeper into the disco influence that peeked through the cracks on Golden Hour? Return to her more traditional country roots that were displayed on her early work? Something else entirely? Time will tell. And we can’t wait to find out.

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.

Podcast: Analyzing Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Recently, Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And guess what? There’s plenty to discuss. The It’s All Dead crew (Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz, and Nadia Alves) hopped on the podcast to make sense of it all.

The trio each share their thoughts on some of their favorite (and least favorite) rankings on the list, discuss the list’s welcomed and overdue shift toward diversity, and talk about a few albums that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. They also ponder how one might separate art from artist while making a list of this nature and how we can accurately and fairly look back on music and events from previous decades. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What albums stuck out to you on this list? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my frequent listening. I’ve talked a lot about my emo years and the time I caved and dove into Top 40 territory, but I’ve never really gotten into the couple of years I spent on the folk side of music. Cottagecore before it was called that, if you will. I used to bake cookies to the dulcet tones of The Lumineers and Ben Howard; it was a brief and peaceful time when I could play music on the kitchen speakers without protest from my family members.

You can buy or stream The Ascension on Apple Music.

Among my favorite albums in this time was 2015’s Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. He provided a modern incarnation of what I imagine John Denver would have created had he not been taken from us so soon. I moved into a new season of listening eventually, but have been brought back into Sufjan’s arms with his latest release, The Ascension.

One of the many things I like about Stevens’ music, akin to his musical cousin Bon Iver, is the thoughtfulness with which he creates. Each choice is painstakingly made, but his finished product doesn’t force us to painstakingly listen. With The Ascension, he steps away from a soft sound into pop; a natural progression for Sufjan, because he’s ventured into the territory before. And of course, as many of my pieces tend to do, we have to speak on religion. 

I don’t know what draws me to albums of apostasy and the like, but it’s like a siren song to me. I can’t look away. Songs begging for a higher power to explain things we can’t understand are a heart’s cry of mine; I’m glad when someone else can make sense of the emotion and bring it through the production process so I don’t have to. Right out of the gate, Sufjan asks if he can bargain with God to maybe make this experience of living any easier.  With tracks like my personal favorites, “Ursa Major” and “Landslide”, he’s found himself looking for love and forgiveness, and he ends up finding it.

Carrie and Lowell was a chore of an album, and The Ascension is the opposite. The songwriting is simple and repetitive — a true pop hallmark — but it still carries the weight of a traditional Sufjan album. He still wrestles with his same emotions regarding love (“Run Away with Me”) and loss and society (“Lamentations”), but he wraps it up in a reviving electropop bow, just enough to get our hopes up before opening the box to find another sad Sufjan song. We finish the album with “America”, a scathing portrait of the depravity the USA has fallen into. It’s a fitting end to an album that is mostly introspective, but Sufjan shows the truth that out of the heart the mouth speaks, and we find ourselves wondering whether this album is about him or about us as a whole.

I quite like this iteration of Sufjan Stevens. He’s learned, like many of us over these past few years, that circumstances can change on a dime, so we ought not to take ourselves too seriously. Songs like “Die Happy,” made of just a simple refrain, have become a genuine cry in our time, surrounded by so much death, grief, and loss. With The Ascension, Sufjan shows that these emotions can coexist with positivity, so even though we may be crying, we may as well dance, too.

4/5

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.

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.

Reflecting On: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Unlike most bubblegum pop acts, Katy Perry has managed to stay newsworthy throughout her entire career thus far. Whether we’re talking about her joyous pregnancy and pending marriage to Orlando Bloom, or cringing at her Twitter defense of Ellen, Katy has kept our eyes focused on her since 2007. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to talk about Teenage Dream, which turns 10 this week.

You can buy or stream Teenage Dream on Apple Music.

In 2010, I was trying my hardest to be an emo kid, so the pop stations were an absolute no-go for me. And yet, I couldn’t escape “California Gurls”. Try as I might, it was stuck in my head and its upbeat tones serenaded my every step. Ugh. I put in my headphones and played some Fall Out Boy, trying to keep my ears pure and free from the forbidden world of “mainstream music.” Obviously, since I’m writing this now, it didn’t work. With five singles from Teenage Dream topping the Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry and her cotton candy-laced universe was here to stay.

If you took a listen to our podcast about the most important albums of the last decade, you’ll see that I find Teenage Dream the most influential album of 2010. With an aura of positivity and escapism, it ushered us into a new age of pop music where anything was possible — even a gauche anthem to the dick pic (“Peacock”). But the songs that didn’t make it to radio are really what I want to talk about today.

The first track that we don’t recognize immediately is “Circle the Drain”. It’s arguably one of Perry’s most serious songs. Supposedly this one is about Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame, but really, it’s an anthem for anyone who has watched someone they love take the dark path of substance abuse. She sings, “Can’t be your savior / I don’t have the power”, and eventually has to walk away. She tries to be scathing, but the song still comes across as desperate and hopeless. It’s one of the best tracks on the album.

The album really does highlight Katy’s battle between moving back to her ultra-spiritual background and Katy Hudson days, and reveling in her new-found fame. We go back and forth in the second half with her about whether she’s made the right decision in her career and personal life, (“Who Am I Living For?” and “Not Like the Movies”) and a look back at how her upbringing affected her self esteem (“Pearl”). 

The journey we go on with Katy is not only like the candy coated road she skips along in the “California Gurls” video, it’s full of questioning and wandering. I feel that’s one of Katy’s biggest strengths, even in later albums. She has found the balance between satisfying the hungry music exec’s needs for radio-worthy pop, and saying what she truly wants to. Teenage Dream wasn’t just an album for 2010’s summer. We shouldn’t take her advice of “Don’t ever look back,” because the singles provided us with one of the most carefree seasons in music we’ve known, but the more serious tracks on the back half of album tell us how much truth Katy had to offer the world.

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.