Lana Del Rey’s continued quest for minimalism sits utterly at odds with the overwhelming majority of her peers. While the neon legacy of PC Music burning bright and hyper-pop becoming a go-to genre tag for left-field innovators, her satisfaction in conjuring sculptures from smoke rings of sound remains as undimmed and potent as ever.
Indeed, ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ is in many ways her most stripped down album to date. At times, there’s little more than a hushed voice and the slurred movement of hands on guitar strings to go on, yet she’s able to create entire worlds within their shadow. The follow up to ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ is spartan, but it enhances Lana’s novelistic abilities as a songwriter; the Pointillist sketching remains, but she succeeds in conjuring a full narrative with little more than an outfit reference, a few breathed words, and lush reverb.
Opener ‘White Dress’ revels in this hushed opulence. All cut-glass piano notes and that exquisite voice, this is pop minimalism par excellence, each note so pointed and exact that it feels like watching frozen airdrops falling from your words on a frosty morning. At times you’re put in mind of Cat Power, or even the Trinity Sessions from Cowboy Junkies; expressive and hugely potent, title track ‘Chem Trails’ dips into a palette of languorous Americana.
‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ ups the pulse a little, with the drums stuttering before falling into a steady beat, the rhythmic palpitations reminiscent of trap, but removed to another, wholly distinct world.
By way of contrast, though, ‘Let Me Love You Like A Woman’ is a beautiful torch song, with its sliding guitar lines presenting a washed out vision of Bakersfield – the woozy audio presenting a hopefully pretty distortion, reminiscent of rain pounding on a windshield. ‘Wild At Heart’ is a stately waltz, with its countrified tones underpinning Lana’s purring yet pleading vocal: “What would you do if I told you / It made me crazy / To see your pretty pics on Sunset Boulevard?”
‘Dark But Just A Game’ has a similar Baroque touch to Nico’s take on ‘These Days’, yet this tale of seduction and thievery within a rigged system then descends into something murkier, connected to a hip-hop beat. Indeed, that theme of doing-what-you-have-to-in-order-to-survive dominates the album; from the Latin guitar touches on ‘Yosemite’ to the finality of ‘Dance ‘Til We Die’ there’s a sense of defiance at Lana’s core. Measured against this, though, are those lingering regrets – we’re put in mind of those early Tom Waits albums, with the author left alone by the piano, when the whiskey was endless and so was the remorse.
‘Breaking Up Slowly’ is a potent sketch of indecision, with the interwoven guitar lines supplying a bed for Lana’s pointed admission: “I don’t want to end up like Tammy Wynette…”
An album about the seductive power of immeasurable personal and financial wealth, ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ refuses to look past the burnt out lives, the people whose roads have long since blurred into nothing. Weyes Blood and Zella Day join Lana on closer ‘For Free’, a recording so intimate you can almost hear the fingerprints being left behind on the piano. They’re reaching out to the commonalities of the female experience, an inter-generational text that speaks both of success and isolation: Now me, I pay for fortunes and those velvet curtain calls / I’ve got a black limousine and two gentleman who escort me through these halls…”
A record that thrives on the most miniscule of details, ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ is a project that rewards patience. Lana Del Rey seeks to slow down time, and lower the temperature of the air; it’s a world away from the chart-bound fireworks of her glossy peers, but its no less creative. An enchanting listen, her world-building remains absolutely undimmed on this triumphant, bewitching project.
Words: Robin Murray
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