Album Review: 'Chemtrails Over the Country Club' by Lana Del Rey
Disclaimer: Believe it or not, this is my first time ever really listening to Lana Del Ray. I believe I have been exposed to a couple of her more well-known songs through friends and the public, but this is my first intentional listen.
“Chemtrails Over the Country Club” is a cohesive album that ultimately prompts its listeners to reflect on the sequences of life, which constitute the inevitable changes that are posed by the natural progression of time. It would also seem that the singer wrote this album while traveling, as most tracks indicate both direct and indirect notions involving travel towards the heart of the country. The physical movement forward by travel from one place to another is indicative of mental and emotional strides forward, with change and opportunity being the catalysts for growth.
In the opening track of the album, “White Dress”, Lana recalls when she was only just a waitress with an appreciation for the greats, long before she became one herself. She paints the earlier stages of her life as a simpler time, where she felt like she had things “under control”. Similarly, in “For Free”, the final track of the album, Lana recognizes a clarinet player on the street who had been “playing real good for free”, despite that “nobody stopped to hear him”. She then draws a comparison by pointing to herself, as she “play(s) for fortunes” and “velvet curtains”. Through direct comparison and the contrasting points of view shared between these tracks, the singer clearly recognizes the changes that recognition and fame have brought to her life. Further, she establishes a sense of awareness and expresses gratitude toward the fortunes of her fame.
To compliment this notion of internal reflection, the album displays overall feelings of bittersweet nostalgia and mellow whimsy through soft instruments and, naturally, the singer’s dreamlike voice. There is something really delicate about Lana Del Ray’s airy sound that is perfectly symbolic of the fragility that is life.
With the exception of the track “Wild At Heart”, I noticed that the instruments are almost always limited to the background. By mixing the vocals at full volume and keeping the instruments subtle and discreet, a stark contrast is created, allowing the spotlight to shine down on Lana’s soft, angelic harmonies and vocal layering.
I also noticed a similarity between musical progressions that are used to push the songs forward, often through the movement of instruments. In songs like “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” and “Dance Till We Die”, the volume and complexity of the instruments seem to increase gradually as the progressions ascend, creating an emotional musical swell. More specifically, in “Tulsa Jesus Freak”, the continuous ascension creates the anticipation of a release, which is never really resolved, but instead descends back down until the end of the song. Here, the rise and decline of the swells and may represent the musician’s contemplation concerning the ebb and flow of natural transitions.
My favorite song musically was “Dark But Just A Game”, which is characterized by a washed out guitar that gives the track a fuzzy feeling and adds to the somber chords of the guitar riff itself. I also really love the play on the percussion, with the presentation of a brief drumroll before picking up the song with a basic beat, which is then complimented by a tambourine. I also thought it was really clever to have the chorus roll out with a classic sounding piano, which is mixed with various sporadic sounds that create a feeling of disorientation. After brief disorder, the song then transitions back into the original somber feeling created by the guitar. Chaos is to be followed by the calm, a clever sound indeed.
While thoughts surrounding change often instill feelings of instability, the calm feel of this album overall urges its listeners to approach the changes in their life with acceptance. The track “Yosemite”, for instance, which draws on the changing of the seasons, maintains a relatively relaxed tone and is not at all abrasive or abrupt, reflecting a subtlety of transitions. After all, the embark of new chapters often occurs beyond our level of awareness, as beginnings and endings are often unforeseeable in the present.
If there is to be only one constant, it is that life is dynamic, and this album ultimately acts as a representation of Lana Del Ray’s personal reflection of her own life. An album well done, with encouragement from the artist herself to keep striving forward