Saturday, July 5, 2014

Album Review: "Ultraviolence" by Lana Del Rey

"You're fucking crazy"

That's exactly how Lana Del Rey teases her fans in the 7 minute "Cruel World," the first track of her sophomore album Ultraviolence. And honestly, truer words couldn't be said by the popstar. I call her a "popstar" because she lives the life of one, despite how hard she tries to deny it. Traveling the country, having her personal life scrutinized by the media, and putting all her experiences into her music are just some of the essential criteria that make Lana an icon in the pop music industry. But really, her persona as the "anti-pop" popstar is why we all love her so much.

Lana has gone through more than a lot of people go through in her lifetime. From her alcoholism to her time in boarding (shout out to the other #boardingschoolbitches), her failed attempt at a career under her real name to a complete image overhaul, Lana has a lot of inspiration to draw from. For her first album, she decided to draw on her time in North Jersey and create an album that mixed stuttering hip hop beats and fast-paced lyrics with the drama and glamour of people like Nancy Sinatra. Let's be real: "Video Games" was something almost too special to be appreciated by America (sorry SNL haters) and Born To Die was the best American album of 2012.

But Lana never received any credit, really.

Instead, she had to deal with confused audiences that didn't get that the thing she does best is to sing sad songs in a dramatic fashion. Thus, the media onslaught began, ripping apart her appearance, place in the music industry, and her supposed lack of credibility. And boy, did it take a toll on Del Cray.

For the first time since Paradise (another stunning collection of work), Lana opens up about the reaction she has had to the media and other eye-opening life experiences she has had since becoming the Americana Lolita icon she created with Born To Die. And judging from her new sound, she ain't playing with that shit no more.

Lana's music has a naturally cinematic quality to it and the best way to describe Ultraviolence would be like listening to a soundtrack for a Western shot in film noir where Stanley Kubrick was tripping on acid the entire time. On first single "West Coast," Lana educates the rest of the country about the California bohemian lifestyle atop psychedelic guitars and tempo shifts courtesy of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. She continues the love story between her and her "bad baby" but in a much more honest and wistful tone. She goes through all the emotions that have been scattered through her lyrics and songs like "Sad Girl" and "Pretty When You Cry" reflect Lana's innate personality shining through amongst the hazy guitars and lo-fi fading that go on across the entire album.

The album is a journey through the life of a bohemian rock chick trying live life and discover what love truly feels like. While that may sound like a romantic fairy tale Lifetime would create (OMG Lana Del Rey biopic? yes please), Del Rey positions herself as the damsel in despair, realizing that love and death can have similar benefits and consequences. In the title track "Ultraviolence," Lana takes us through the tale of an abusive relationship where her boyfriend hit her and "it felt like a kiss." Never one to shy away from controversy, Lana reminds us that experience is an extremely personal concept and what others perceive as hate can be true love. Then there is the fantastically titled "Fucked My Way To The Top" where she throws intense amounts of shade at another particular artist (Guesses in the comments) and proclaims "This is my show." And it truly is. 

Lana falters a little bit when she becomes a little too intent on playing the role of the doomed mistress, which are reflected in the sounds of songs like "Brooklyn Baby" and "Money Power Glory." Arguably the most mainstream pop tunes on the album, they fade into the background under the weight of her being the perfect representation of a girl seeking the American dream and doing whatever it takes to get there. However, Lana knows exactly what she's talking about in "Brooklyn Baby" having been raised on that culture of "beat poetry" and "hydroponic weed."

The real beauty of the album comes when Lana really lets go and embraces the romantic aspects of her incredible storytelling. One of the biggest highlights of the entire album is "Shades of Cool." That chorus doe! Admiring the flaws that make her man so amazing among a heavenly orchestra is a true #LanaDelMoment if there ever was one. That's not to say that the song breaks the darkness that Del Rey takes such great measures to establish on Ultraviolence. This balance of a dramatic sonic landscape against wistful and nostalgic lyrics can be found at the album's end, a place Lana seems to shine in with every LP. "Black Beauty" and "Old Money" show Lana finding her place as an Americana style icon telling stories from an era gone by, while "Florida Kilos" could easily be put on any of her releases and remained amazing.

Ultraviolence is a dark and sad album filled with subdued anger, lost love, and bitterness. The album makes me wonder "Oh Lana, are you okay?" And I think that's the entire point. Since her rise to mainstream success thanks to last summer's "Summertime Sadness" remix, it appears Lana is trying to deny the fame that surrounded her earlier releases. This album is a giant middle finger to the public that tortured her and screams "Try and remix this, you little bitches." And it's brilliant. It's pure, unadulterated Lana and makes me realize she was the anti-pop star before anti-pop stardom was cool (Sorry Lorde). With Born To Die, Lana Del Slayed us fast and quick with a loaded mobster's Glock. This time around she has decided to kill us slowly and suffer the same anguish she felt. And she makes sure we love every excruciating moment of it.

Final Verdict: 9/10
Highlights: "Shades of Cool," "Ultraviolence," "Old Money," "Black Beauty"

Friday, July 4, 2014

Song of The Day: "American Girl" by Bonnie Mckee

Happy 4th of July! As the first official Song of The Day (I won't do everyday, only when something important comes along), I decided to something holiday-related. Here, we have one of the greatest songs of 2013 and the most patriotic song I can think of.

Bonnie Mckee happens to be one of the greatest songwriters of our time. "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz? That was Bonnie. "How We Do" by Rita Ora? Chalk another one up for Bonnie. Pretty much every popular Katy Perry song? Bonnie was behind those too. So why isn't she a major pop star by now? Well, "American Girl" is her second attempt at a solo career and if this is any indication of what to expect, I cannot wait for her next album.

"I was raised by a television" is an amazing lyric isn't it? God Bless America!

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective! Yes Yes Yes…

I can't think of a better way to start my new blog than by talking about one of the greatest musical acts the world has ever seen. Girls Aloud represents every thing that went right with pop throughout the 2000's and, despite having no presence in America (such a crime), they had really been a part of my childhood. So let's go over who Girls Aloud are and why their magnificence should be honored throughout the universe.

Girls Aloud was formed through a reality TV show, as any credible celebrity has been. The judges on Popstars: The Rivals, which included Ginger Spice!!!, knew what they were doing when they picked Cheryl Tweedy (now Cole, then "Cheryl", now back to Cole), Nicola Roberts, Nadine "Nuh-deen" Coyle, Kimberley Walsh, & Sarah Harding to form what we now know as Girls Aloud. They released their first single "Sound of the Underground," got the 2002 Christmas number one, and solidified their position as Brit Pop Royalty. After five studio albums, their first greatest hits collection, two charity singles (the first a beautiful snorefest, the second a clear power play to show their dominance over the Sugababes), and this live performance, the group decided that while they were on top they might as well take a break for a year. A great idea, right? RIGHT?!?!
And so began the longest hiatus in musical history for every pop fan. Ultimately, this wasn't the worst thing. We saw the launch of Cheryl and Nicola's solo careers, Nadine's attempt at a solo career, Kimberley's stage acting career, and Sarah… well Sarah was in some movies ok? Then, on a bleak mid-November day in 2012, something new "Something New" descended from the heavens to bless our ears. A clear Girls Aloud classic, we knew we had our girls back. After another greatest hits album and an amazing tour, maybe the girls would be back for good? Maybe we could have another album that checks off every box on the Poptastic list? But no, on March 20 2013 (I was only 18 when I had to endure this trauma) Girls Aloud announced they had split up. And so ended the greatest girl group to impact the pop scene since the Spice Girls. But we will always remember their amazingness for generations.

So what made Girls Aloud so integral to modern pop? Well, it was honestly because their music (and yes, I mean the music) was so revolutionary. Most of that revolutionary quality came from their work with Xenomania, a name every true pop fan should become familiar with. Run by Brian Higgins, the man behind Cher's "Believe" (you're welcome gays), the production company helped write and produce every one of the Aloud's albums and continually reinvented their sound to stay 5 years ahead of the curve in pop music. With every irregular song structure, with every melodic reference, and every "OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?" moment, Girls Aloud epitomized cool, avant-garde pop music that transcended generations. Combine that with their girl next door from the 2000's that went onto pop stardom look and we get a musical act that rung up 20 consecutive top ten hits and remained on top for almost a decade.

So thank you to Cheryl, Nicola, Kimberley, Sarah, and Nadine. For everything.