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.

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Review: Beach House – 7

The number seven is a number that holds a lot of symbolism in history. Biblically, it signifies completion. It’s a number that holds a lot of weight through superstition – seven years of bad luck follow breaking a mirror. There are seven deadly sins and seven chakras in Hinduism. It is considered a sacred number in many cultures. On Beach House’s new album, 7, I’m not sure whether they refer to any of these ideas, but they certainly reflect on their past six albums and the world we live in today.

You can buy 7 on Apple Music.

Beach House was formed in 2006, and has two members: Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. In 2008, they released Devotion, which was the album that I first heard and enjoyed. But in all of their albums, they place a focus on sitting and meditating. Their albums are drawn out experiences, and, in my opinion, are meant to be listened to in one sitting, from start to finish. 7 is no different.

The album begins with “Dark Spring”, which is a different direction musically (and the third single). Their past albums usually begin with a softer track that builds up, but this opener hits right away. It’s bass heavy and establishes a sound that really carries right through the entire album. Lyrically, it talks about the death of stars and a lack of light, hence the title. The lyrical theme carries on into the next track, “Pay No Mind”, which showcases a different type of dying star: an ending relationship. Legrand sings, “It’s painful but / You do what you must”.

“Lemon Glow” was the first single the band released. I really liked the vibe that this track puts out. There’s a driving force behind it that, while at the same time carrying so much gentle energy, also carries so much restraint. One of my favorite things about this band is their ability to effortlessly bring a sense of balance.

The strangest track on the album is “L’Inconnue”. It has a very Catholic feel to it, brought on by the heavy use of layered vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place in such a church service. Legrand is French, and she sings some French in this song. The subject comes from a story about a woman who was found drowned in the Seine River. In an interview with Stereogum, Legrand said of the track: “The French part [on “L’Inconnue”] started years ago. We always liked it, but we never found where it belonged.” 

“I am loving losing life” is a line from the track “Drunk In L.A.” It struck me as a really heavy but profound line. It’s about death, and follows the song about a girl who drowned, but this isn’t a morbid song. Victoria Legrand talks about the memories she’s made over the years. She talks about strawberries in the summer and playing pretend when she was a child. These are times she’s proud of and recalls fondly. She acknowledges that life isn’t forever, but it’s okay because she’s doing what she loves. This is one of my favorite tracks on this album because it’s a reminder that amidst all of the negative things that a person watches happen in the world in a lifetime, there’s a positive microcosm of personal memories that make life worth living.

Sonically, I love the direction of “Dive”. It was the second single released, and it shifts the mood from the melancholy tones of the past couple of tracks and brings the energy of “Dark Spring” back. They’re not happy lyrics though: “Tell her something / Tell her nothing /  Tell her that you’re fading”.

The last single they released is “Black Car”. It’s a strange single choice, but I suppose they may have wanted to give a different taste of the album. The previous singles were on the more upbeat side of things, but this track is moody and dark. This isn’t a favorite track for me, and I can see myself skipping it when I (inevitably, much to my chagrin) do cherry-pick tracks in later listens. It is interesting in the way that this is one of the only tracks where there’s a back-and-forth lilt in the lyrical delivery.

Remember how I talked about Beach House’s use of balance? “Lose Your Smile” is another example. “Drunk In L.A.” had references to happy times, but then the mood was brought back down for the next two tracks. This album is like a soundwave: up and down. We’re back on the upswing with “Lose Your Smile”, which strays away from their usual musical choices with some country influences. It’s a lovely track. “Dreams, baby do come true”, Victoria sings as the end fades out.

The song with the most shallow lyricism is “Woo”. It’s a proper love song. Victoria sings of unrequited love: “I cannot say much / But I want it all / And I want it all”. It’s psychedelic and sonically reminds me of 90s R&B, in a weird and definitely vague, barely-there way.

If “Woo” has shallow lyricism (from, of course, a Beach House perspective – the lyrics are never truly shallow), then they make up for it in “Girl of the Year”. This is a song about the harsh reality of stardom, and has a lot of sexual imagery, no doubt connecting the two topics due to the rise of the Me Too movement and the heavy emphasis on Hollywood and the price of fame.

The final track on the album, “Last Ride”, is in reference to Nico, the German singer who died following a bicycle accident in 1988. It could also be seen as a potential reference to the end of Beach House’s musical efforts. If seven is the number of completion, it’s possible that they’ve completed all of the music they have to offer. (That’s just my fan theory, though – not confirmed or even likely. Just a distinction I noticed.) The song ends with the line, “It’s just a whisper”, as the keys fade out.

This is nothing short of a beautiful album. Each track is essential to explaining the ideas and perspective Legrand and Scally put into our minds and thought processes, which is difficult to accomplish with a first album, never mind number seven. It’s lyrically thought-provoking and the soundscape is enthralling. Is it their best album? Maybe. It’s hard to compare Beach House’s albums because they’re all dynamic in their own way. 7 is simply the perfect addition to a wonderfully diverse catalog.

4.5/5

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill

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.