Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Review: Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd? • Lana Del Rey

Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard? Lana Del Rey did. It’s one of the many fragments of information she reveals extemporaneously on her record of the same name. But there’s actually a tunnel under two different corridors that could qualify as the tunnel under Ocean Boulevard: One in Long Beach, California, and one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In California, the tunnel is a sealed time capsule of 1920s art deco tile work that connected a downtown building to the beach. In Myrtle Beach, it’s a gauche ‘80s kaleidoscope of aquatic murals that connects parts of a beachside resort. It’s common knowledge by now which one inspired this record, but which one’s imagery better exemplifies Lana Del Rey depends on perspective.

In some ways, Did you know? is the elegant, up-close love letter to legacy, tradition, and her family that Blue Banisters prefaced: The opening number bares her surname, acting as a supercut of her life’s memories with her father, grandmother, and siblings, while “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing” is a gentle plea for her family’s (and her own) peace and safety. But in so many other ways, the album channels the chaotically charming Myrtle Beach variant of its namesake tunnel in its delivery: It’s truly whatever goes. “My boyfriend tested positive for COVID. It don’t matter. We’ve been kissing, so whatever he has, I have,” she declares casually on “Peppers,” which also interpolates a Tommy Genesis song about blowjobs into its hook. A sermon from a celebrity cult preacher was recorded on an iPhone and declared an interlude next to “A&W,” a seven-minute, two-part epic profiling the mindset of a self-proclaimed American whore.

“A&W,” maybe the most impressively sprawling epic in her catalog aside from 2019’s “Venice Bitch,” swings from an alluring guitar ballad to a trap callback to her first few records with a nonsensical riff about a bum who’s “fucking up big time.” Amid the dark ballets that her upper register and piano tracks perform on “Candy Necklace” and “Paris, Texas,” the sarcastic reminder of the alleged floozy and her loser boyfriend feels like a necessity, as do the touching – and perhaps among her career-best – love songs “Let the Light In” and “Margaret.” The brighter moments on the record, despite how opposite they may be, remind us that this is not the Lana Del Rey we thought we knew. This is Lana Del Rey making music that reflects peace for the first time since she declared we were born to die. Maybe, it seems, we were born to live – and to feel, to explore, and to learn – after all.

Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd? is available now under Interscope Records.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Review: This is Why • Paramore


Resurgence. Revival. Renaissance. Pick a cliché, apparently one beginning with the letter R, and it’s probably been leveraged as an accurate description for whatever is happening with American rock band Paramore right now. After almost a decade of turbulence and digressions – like major beef with a former bassist and a silly cancellation over the band’s signature hit – the band snapped back into place last year. “Misery Business” was reintroduced into their repertoire by way of Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, Twilight soundtrack pinnacle “Decode” was rightfully resurrected with a streaming release, and most importantly, they announced plans for their first new record in six years.

Built upon the fundamentals of post-punk and alt-rock, This is Why finds Hayley Williams disjointed and disappointed. Despite her reputation for unleashing ground-rattling belts and roars – and she’s still got it, on cuts like the doom-riddled, vengeful “You First” – she often throttles her voice down to a snarl: “If you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it,” she opens the record in an uneasy, tumbling melody, on a borderline paranoid statement piece that became its title track. And even when the band gives playfulness a go, on “C'est Comme Ça,” it’s purposefully tuned to track toward unsettling: Gum-smacking “na-na-na-na” hooks are bookended with deep, faux Brit-accented spoken poetry on carrying on life in a disordered society.

Instant Paramore essential “Figure 8” or even the panicked “The News” may placate stubborn purists who long for the days of pre-Paramore Paramore, but beyond that, This is Why once again redefines a band that long abandoned the concept of definition anyway. The album listens not like the battle cry of a band at war, as they so often did before, but as the postmortem documentary of learning to accept life in the miserable aftermath. “Might get easier, but you don’t get used to it. Keep on autopilot,” she advises on “Thick Skull,” a sweeping finale from a band that rocks hard, occasionally self-soothes, and above all, consistently displays self-awareness in its current circumstances.

This is Why is available now under Atlantic Records.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Review: Let Her Burn • Rebecca Black

“Multiple versions of the same person, all of them hurt. Don’t think the performance is working,” Rebecca Black laments on “Performer.” The guitar-led ballad closes a 30-minute flash-bang of a debut record, Let Her Burn, that rushes through its track-list with one thing to prove: Rebecca Black is a performer. And it does so successfully: Pulling out unexpectedly dynamic songwriting and wrapping herself in metallic production, Black wedges herself into the motherboard of hyperpop music and translates the genre through a dance-rock lens.

Whether she's confronting herself, an ex, or society at large, Black keeps the record sharp and to the point. Across many of the album’s tracks, gurgling bass, abrasive industrial beats, and a slurred whisper converge into an unstoppable storm. On “Destroy Me,” a hyperactive beat cuts up a heavyweight electric guitar as Black makes a masochistic plea: “Watch me while I crash and burn again and again. Go ahead, destroy me.” Bass carbonates into bubbling dance grooves on white-hot highlights “Crumbs” and “Misery Loves Company” without shaking the album’s dark mechanical underpinnings. 

The music on Let Her Burn carries itself with inherent anger, encasing emotions in an overheated electronic ecosystem of synthesized instruments and electric guitars. The production choices are punchy and stand in stark contrast to Black’s comfort in a soft soprano range, but the dichotomy is ultimately part of the point: The music commands our attention for the overdue statement of a woman who was placed on the cross unjustly and ridiculed on a global scale. But the joke's on all of us: We let her burn, and now she's risen from the ashes.

Oh yeah, did I mention she’s that Rebecca Black? Yes, that one. Not bad, right?

Let Her Burn is available now as an independent release.

© Aural Fixation