by Anissa Sanchez
Forty-five minutes is all it takes for singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey to capture the essence of sentimentality in her most recent studio album Chemtrails Over the Country Club. In what might be her most vulnerable album lyrically, Lana’s sixth album is no less dreamy than her previous works. Chemtrails ultimately features Lana’s signature melancholia roots while combining hints of folk influences to create one of her best albums to date.
With Lana’s tradition to release her albums in the spring or summer, there is a certain sense of freedom from the cold grips of winter that her songs tend to evoke. The album’s opening track, “White Dress,” only solidified this predisposition of mine. The lyrics paint a longing picture of simpler times when the singer was younger and free from the heavy demands of life. The overtly honest chorus paints an even more precise image, poetically retelling a specific moment in Lana’s life when she worked as a waitress before finding fame. This theme of lyrical transparency sets the tone for what is to come, as it remains a constant throughout the entirety of the album. What was more pleasantly surprising to me in the opening track was the unruffled tenor that showcases Lana’s whispery falsetto. It is a refreshing and pristine vocal delivery that she performs with grace. All of these elements mingle with one another to set the tone of the etherealness we can expect in the album’s forthcoming songs.
In the title track “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” Lana describes her longtime affinity with the splendors of Americana. The ballad portrays an idyllic summertime spent poolside at a country club. On its own, the song is the epitome of an opulent, carefree and lustrous affair with the season of summer. Taking a deeper look beyond what is on the surface, however, we see a return to the recurring theme of soul-searching. In this instance, Lana embraces her idiosyncrasies when she sings “I’m not unhinged or unhappy, I’m just wild.” Just before the bridge, she also expresses “it’s beautiful how this deep normality settles down over me.” The music video for this title track brings to life the imagery that is being described while putting an emphasis on the romanticized lavishness at the country club. For these reasons, I felt that the track “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” easily fits in among Lana’s other popular summer anthems.
Aside from the traditional Lana Del Rey themes in the title track, the new album is set apart from the rest of the singer’s discography through her experimental use of Autotune in the third track “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” From first listen, the refined vocal pitch alterations sounded considerably out of place. However, after listening to the track multiple times, it started to grow on me and it was not long before it became one of my favorite songs from the album. I suppose this was mainly due to the very different sound it had to offer. Somehow, the addition of the Autotune only accentuates the dreaminess that is carried over from the previous track.
Other tracks on Chemtrails Over the Country Club, such as “Wild at Heart,” “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” and “Yosemite” reveal a longing to escape from the pressures of California and travel to a place that is less frantic. In “Wild At Heart,” Lana muses the idea of being free and allows her untamed nature of the soul to guide her out of the California smog. This is heard in the chorus “I left Calabasas, escaped all the ashes / ran into the dark /and it made me wild, wild, wild at heart.” Similarly, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” deals with the same concept of chasing freedom. In this track, Lana sings “not all those who wander are lost…it’s just wanderlust,” admirably summing up her strong desire to travel and regain touch with her soul. Finally, “Yosemite” puts the transitions of seasons into perspective and relates them to the stagnant feeling of invincibility that the singer is experiencing. The opening lines “seasons may change / but we won’t change / isn’t it sweet, how we, know that already” along with Lana’s delicate vocals exemplifies a sense of reassurance in knowing that there is a constant among progression. To me, each song with their shared underlying theme renders the album to sound like a book with their own story to tell in relation to Lana’s life.
Although Lana may have popularized the niche genre of melancholia pop, Chemtrails Over the Country Club emerges from this title with its subtle introduction of folk ballads. This is best heard in the track “Breaking Up Slowly,” which features country singer Nikki Lane. The vocals of both singers is accompanied by soft guitar instrumentals, producing a haunting ambience – a widely different sound from the album’s previous songs. Lyrically, it is emotionally driven, revealing the complexities of leaving a relationship and fear of “a life of regret.” The inclusion of this track not only fittingly grounds the album’s sound, but it also cements the album’s entire introspective concept.
By the end of the album, we see Lana achieving a sense of solace in the close-knit group of friends she has found. In addition to the accompaniment of Nikki Lane in the previously mentioned track, Lana brings in a couple of other female vocalists whose voices in unison greatly compliment one another. The closing track “For Free” alludes to the idea of unanimity, as there are multiple female singers that are featured, including Zella Day and Weyes Blood. This idea is also seen on the album’s cover, which depicts Lana among her group of friends. The track, originally written by Joni Mitchell, provides the perfect conclusion with its lyrical reflection on what sets apart the life of a popular singer and one whose musical ambitions are overlooked.
Personally, I feel that this album is unique in the best way possible. Chemtrails Over the Country Club reels you in and takes you on an transfixing journey through Lana’s world. The album delves deeper into Lana’s memories and explores the fleeting moments in the various phases of her life. Each song is different in its lyrical approach, making it fascinating to re-listen and examine their implications. The album overall is a polishing of Lana’s trademark sound which makes me inclined to believe that her future works will only continue to excel from here.