Friday, May 15, 2015

Ultraviolence | Lana Del Rey

It's certainly no secret that Lana Del Rey's music sometimes needs time to grow on me... Remember that time I reviewed her debut Born to Die somewhat negatively and eventually wrote a note on it saying that I mostly changed my mind and ended up loving it? I like to avoid stuff like that and give albums their fair chance. That's why it took me so long before I listened to her latest release, Ultraviolence.

Even though this new album is a departure from the odd yet wonderful mesh of indie and R&B influences of Born to Die and the delicate, score-like sounds of Paradise, Lana has once again crafted an album that's solid, relaxing, and perfect for summer. Altogether, it's certainly very Lana despite any differences in sound. Ultraviolence took even longer than Born to Die to grow on me, but finally, the time is right for me to appreciate this new direction.

Ultraviolence is a strange combination of dark and beachy sounds, and it works... In a way, it has more of an alternative vibe as it's very guitar-led. However, the guitars are like a lazy, hot summer day - the parts make me think of Pink Floyd's riffs in songs like "Breathe" and "Us and Them." This is especially noticeable in the single "Shades of Cool." It's very slow and dreamy, and there's even a bit of a guitar solo in there. Oddly enough this song had no effect on me whatsoever the first few times listening to it, but now I can't get enough. Despite being less ballad-like and having more of a kick to it (for lack of a better term), "Cruel World" has a similar feel. And of course, Lana's mellow alto voice molds into this relaxing, dark, yet summery flow perfectly.

The 'beachiness' of Ultraviolence comes full force in the singles "Brooklyn Baby" and "West Coast." Actually, "Brooklyn Baby" is one of the few songs that I loved instantly with the semi-staccato guitar line and general melody. Percussion really helps the song pick up at the start of the second verse, and Lana's lyrics certainly have their appeal: "Well my boyfriend's in a band / He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed / I've got feathers in my hair / I get down to beat poetry." At that point I was basically in love. On the other hand, "West Coast" took absolutely forever to grow on me, but once it did... Well, it's still hard for me to keep away from it. Lana half sings, half narrates the verses in a way that might sound musically appealing at first, but once you see how it fits in line with that fantastic chorus, it makes perfect sense. Still, the chorus is the best part of the song as it takes the pace back down a bit and Lana sings in the most soothing way.

"Old Money" is the most stripped down, with the instruments primarily being the piano and some strings. This song is by far the easiest to fall in love with. It's beautiful and soft, and the vocal line is similar to the classic "A Time for Us" from Romeo and Juliet. Fans of her album Paradise will eat this song up like candy. The lyrics are especially poetic: "My father's love was always strong / My mother's glamour lives on and on..." "Old Money" always makes me think of my favorite movie American Beauty for some reason... It feels somewhat similar to the softer moments of Thomas Newman's gorgeous score.

"Pretty When You Cry" and "Money Power Glory" are other slower-paced song that stand out for both their simplicity and melancholy feel. The guitar part of "Pretty When You Cry" reminds me of "Hotel California" by The Eagles, except this is much darker (despite still being an ideal summertime track), and while "Money Power Glory" certainly has some of the more 'classic' ingredients found on Ultraviolence (chilled guitars, simple piano chords, etc.) it's more atmospheric. In fact, at the very beginning of that one I was reminded a bit of the alt/synthpop band Of Verona.

The title track, "Sad Girl," and "Fucked My Way to the Top" are the only ones I don't care for, at least on the standard, and of the three deluxe bonus tracks, the ever-melancholy "Black Beauty" was the only one to resonate with me. Overall, Ultraviolence left me with very positive vibes. Even though it's lighter and easy to listen to, it's still relatively dark, like all of Lana's work. I'm really happy I gave it a chance to grow on me and I definitely encourage everyone to give it a try this summer. After all, that seems to be Lana's prime season, and Ultraviolence is no exception.

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