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"Chemtrails Over the Country Club" - Lana Del Rey

There have only been a handful of albums in my life I've loved as much as "Norman Fucking Rockwell," Lana Del Rey's 2019 magnum opus produced by wunderkind producer and fun/Bleachers musician Jack Antonoff. To give you an idea of how much I fullheartedly loved that album, I really had stopped paying attention to LDR at this point. The period between "Honeymoon" and "NFR" Is a lost time for me. I've since gone back and revisited it, but while it was actually happening, I could have cared less.

"NFR" was this album that BLEW me away on my first listen. I hadn't heard an album so cohesively good in a minute. I spent the rest of 2019 listening to "NFR," on bus trips and plane rides and nights at home, and half of my first quarantine listening to it, too. It powered me through that phase of my life - it just hit home with me, on a deep level where music rarely resonates anymore. And I would classify it as my favorite album of all time - eclipsing others I've grown up with and loved in the few years it's been out. 

Between "NFR" and her grower-of-a-name follow-up "Chemtrails Over the Country Club," a lot has happened - both in Lana world and in the more macro universe. Of course we know in the much greater scheme of things, the Earth is moving faster toward the apocalypse or something, but things have been a bit messy and erratic in Lana world (you can google, but suffice to say it's been a little bit of a dumpster fire). She did release a poetry collection in summer 2020, and she was hard at work on not one but two follow-up albums the rest of the year. Any messiness aside, Lana is one extremely hard-working and talented artist - I would position her alongside Taylor Swift as one of the most productive musicians in mainstream pop/alternative. 

The build-up to "Chemtrails" from a musical perspective (stressing musical perspective lol) seemed a bit mixed. Although "Let Me Love You Like a Woman" didn't seem like a favorite among fans, it did generate relatively positive reviews in the press. And the title track off "Chemtrails" - and its dark epic of an accompanying music video - seemed to be more of a favorite among long-time fans, but for me it just never really clicked. (I do think the video is pretty cool, though.)

"Chemtrails Over the Country Club" - the album in its entirety - finally came out earlier this month, earning a 7.5 rating from Pitchfork, and fairly positive reviews from other music outlets (like NME). Overall, it's a shorter, quieter, and more introverted counterpart to "NFR." Produced by Lana and Antonoff, "COTCC" does feel something like a cousin to their earlier work together; not an exact sibling, but in a similar enough vein you can clearly tell they are related. Whereas "NFR" felt more ambivalent and mellow and imbued with a sort of SoCal sensibility, "COTCC" feels very middle America, mellow but in a much different way than "NFR" - and more internally reflective as opposed to mulling the fate of society at large. "White Dress" ("downatthemeninmusicbiznessconference") opens the album on a subtle, soft, piano-driven note. Actually, as I relistened to the song while writing this, I thought to myself it sounds almost reminiscent of a young Tori Amos.

There aren't very bad or filler-y tracks on "COTCC" - "NFR" didn't really have any either, except I disdained "Bartender" for whatever reason. There are some songs that feel out of place and like they don't mesh with the rest of the relatively short album. Doesn't make them bad, but it does make the listen more jarring than it would otherwise be. For me, those tracks would be the title track - which just seems very grandiose and lofty of a song anyway - and the Nikki Lane duet "Breaking Up Slowly." "Dance Till We Die" didn't instantly get my attention nor did "Not All Who Wonder Are Lost," but they have since grown on me, esp. the latter cut. 

The strongest songs are "Tulsa Jesus Freak" - which doesn't seem like it should work, pairing Lana with autotune, but it's pure magic - and "Dark But Just a Game," a meditation on self-destruction and the nature of working in the music industry. Neither track really seems to mesh with the folkier sound of the album as a whole, but they still somehow work well. "Wild at Heart" is also gorgeous, but much more on the folkier side of things. And then there is "Yosemite" - which is almost happy sounding for a famously melancholic singer. "COTCC" could be read as a kiss off to fame and doing music to some degree, and if this were the case, "Yosemite" would be Lana's happy ending after more than a decade of religiously putting out album after album. 

The closer is the gentle, very fragile-sounding Joni Mitchell cover "For Free," featuring the likes of up-and-comers Zella Day and Weyes Blood. Although some have called it "schmaltzy," I found their take on it hauntingly bittersweet - and Weyes Blood sounds so much like Joni on it that it scared me at first. 

Considering Lana and Jack Antonoff piloted this vehicle, a Taylor Swift comparison seems apt here. If "NFR" was "Folklore," then "COTCC" would DEFINITELY be "Evermore." Related, also very good, but not as iconic as the looming earlier work. However, this being said - and yes, she can be a little messy at times (responding to critics on IG, Lana announced her new album “Rock Candy Sweet" will be out this June) - Lana is probably one of the most talented (and driven) singer-songwriters we will see in our lifetime. 

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