Three moody, intense releases that defined my week.
New Album: Blue Banisters, Lana Del Rey – Interscope/Polydor, 2021
I’m sorry. I have to admit it. I don’t really like Lana Del Rey. Not that I don’t like her as a person, but her music just doesn’t do it for me. I guess I don’t have the gamine coquette cherry aesthetic. I don’t get it! I’m trying to look at her music objectively, but I feel like she’s been so entangled with the aesthetic connotations of her music it’s difficult to enjoy without identifying with that particular vibe.
But I digress. Here’s the actual album.
Blue Banisters is actually Lana’s second album this year. It’s a nice contrast to early 2021’s Chemtrails over the Country Club, which barely soaked into pop culture, while the world seems afire with buzz about Blue Banisters.
I didn’t love the musical direction of Blue Banisters – it felt like a slightly revamped Lust for Life – but it was at least consistent in its musical storyboarding. The storytelling itself is uber-relevant: Lana name-drops Black Lives Matter, quarantine, quarantine weight gain, quarantine Netflix with bae, and many other (mostly depressing) factors of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second half of the album was definitely better — the first five or so songs felt like a melancholy downtempo soup. “Black Bathing Suit,” a wispy ode to her favourite black bathing suit, was the only highlight of the A-side.
The three-song run of “Violets for Roses”, “Dealer”, and “Thunder” was the album’s strongest moment. “Violets for Roses” is the classic story of changing yourself for a relationship, in this case replacing the freedom of violet for roses with romantic connotations.
A highlight on the album was “Dealer,” a smokey duet between her and a well-placed male singer, in which Lana intones: “don’t try to reach me through my dealer” over and over.
Overall, Blue Banisters is not Lana at her best, but it certainly isn’t her at her worst.
New Single: “Benjamin Franklin” Snail Mail – Matador, 2021
Snail Mail takes a moody turn with the second single off her upcoming album, Valentine. “Benjamin Franklin” is undoubtedly a song about money and the want for it. Snail Mail matures from indie darling to a co-opt of slacker rock and its aesthetics.
A well-directed music video for the single features her slumping over banisters, stumbling around a house, and melting into the floor. I’m really excited about this new direction Snail Mail is taking, both musically and personally. As she enters her twenties, she takes a new sonic leap that, after this single, I have high hopes.
Her breathy voice cracks as she yo-yos between high verses and low choruses, showing off her vocal range and taking herself out of the indie music low-effort vocal trap. “Got money, I don’t care about sex,” she intones gravely. Musically, there isn’t really a distinct chorus, but it is Snail Mail’s style to present a song that sounds as if it’s been microwaved: all melty around the edges.
The song centers around an 80s drum machine beat and synth interjections, making it a great retro callback.
Discovery: Weezer (Blue Album) Weezer – DGC, 1994
Would it surprise you to learn that I’ve never listened to Weezer? I mean, not on purpose. “Say it Ain’t So” is impossible to avoid at garage shows. I’ve always enjoyed the live performance of that song because it’s usually a respite from the considerably worse original material from the type of band to play Weezer covers in the first place.
I’m not going to address the Weezer jokes — frankly, I don’t care for them. I’m trying to listen to the album in an objective manner without thinking of internet memes or whatever else you kids are doing.
The opener was okay, but it’s a bad sign that I always think of the melody to “My Name Is Luca” by the Lemonheads instead — one of Weezer’s contemporaries that could give them a run for their money.
From “No One Else:” “When I’m away she puts the makeup on the shelf/When I’m away she don’t leave the house.” Mhmm. Okay.
“Ooh wee ooh I look just like Buddy Holly” is one of the catchiest melodies in rock(?) history. I was singing this under my breath for the entire day after hearing the song, like, once.
“Undone (The Sweater Song)” is a really great distilled essence of what being bored at a party feels like. Two spoken-word interludes build above a minor chord riff — a quirky choice for an album single. I like the second conversation best where a girl coyly asks our singer for a ride to a party. The only flaw with the song was the squealing and out-of-place guitar solo in the middle. I don’t even mind the extended outro. I think it’s one of the rare cases where making the breakdown of a song longer is actually beneficial to its quality. The guitar noises add to the garage-y feel, like you’re actually at a show watching a band kind of fade out at the end of their set.
The first half of the album has some forgettable pop songs that only serve to remind the listener that the band is indeed from California — the grating “Surf Wax America” is the worst offender — and an attempted Beach Boys harmony break doesn’t quite sell it.
We’ve come to my personal favourite, and the favourite of so many others. It may just be the memories of standing in a field barefoot watching a mediocre band with a pun-based name cover this, as we’ve already gone over, but I don’t think that nostalgia is entirely to blame here. The best pop song about alcoholism is so great because it tickles our ears in a tried and tested way. The Pixies invented the quiet-LOUD-quiet song structure (for example, a quiet verse and a loud chorus) and Nirvana stole and perfected it with their giant 1991 single that doesn’t need to be named.
“In The Garage” is a funky view into Weezer’s nerdom within a pop song package. Its lighthearted nature is a foil to the depressing “Say it Ain’t So.” “Holiday” and “Only in Dreams” close the album with happier, mellower notes.
Overall, I’d say my expectations were exceeded. I see many “Buddy Holly” listens in my near future.