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Music

Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life

Photo: Neil Krug

Lust for Life postures itself above all as Lana Del Rey's most optimistic, political, and globally conscious record to date.


Lana Del Rey

Lust for Life

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2017-07-21
UK Release Date: 2017-07-21
Amazon
iTunes

Lana Del Rey will likely go down as one of the most iconic pop stars of the 2010s, not least because of the questions she raises (and the anxieties she provokes) about authenticity, irony, and nostalgia. Throughout her already storied career, it has been ambiguous which aspects of her persona are "genuine", and which, if any, are presented with a sly, knowing wink. At first, critics did not quite know what to make of this facile conundrum, and early readings of Del Rey's 2012 debut Born to Die tore into the album for its apparent artifice.

Though Del Rey has courted such controversy and speculation about her persona, she has also on occasion broken the fourth wall to demand proper recognition for her artistry. "They judge me like a picture book / By the colors, like they forgot to read," she lamented on "Brooklyn Baby", from her sophomore album Ultraviolence. On her latest release and fourth LP, Lust for Life, she once again seeks to escape from the warped prism of public perception, beseeching, "Take me as I am, don't see me for what I'm not" on "God Bless America - and All the Beautiful Women in It".

Indeed, though little has fundamentally changed in Del Rey's aesthetic philosophy over her four studio albums, she has carved out a space for herself in the universe of music criticism through sheer resilience. It has become somewhat old hat to litigate Del Rey's (in)authenticity, and instead more pertinent to theorize the statements she makes in weaving her musical maze of images, icons, and collective pop cultural memories.

Lust for Life arrives at the most established and stable point in her career thus far, then. The familiar tropes are all here: she overtly pays homage to pop music from the 1960s and '70s, naming the album itself after Iggy Pop's 1977 record of the same name and offering to be "your tiny dancer" on "Tomorrow Never Came", to name just a few. And yet, the first half of the record is also as hip-hop-infused as Del Rey's music has been since Born to Die. She seamlessly weaves features from A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti into her aesthetic on "Summer Bummer", the slow, bass-heavy beats mitigating the glacial plodding that characterized so much of her previous album, Honeymoon.

The album becomes more pensive and emotive toward its second half, particularly in its final third or so. With song titles like "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems" and "Heroin", there are several warning signs of Del Rey's unfortunate vice of romanticizing pain and tragedy. In actuality, though, she tackles the subject matter with grace and empathy. The latter track, allusions to the Charles Manson murders notwithstanding, ranks with previous Del Rey triumphs like Ultraviolence's "Old Money" in its somber, melodic poignancy.

Lust for Life postures itself above all as Lana Del Rey's most optimistic, political, and globally conscious record to date. Much in the same way that Katy Perry has begun making so-called "purposeful pop", here Del Rey questions her role as a musician in ushering in a better world. These moments are most effective when tempered with personal nuance, as on "Change", an expressive, evocative piano number that reverberates with pain as much as it yearns for peacefulness. "There's something in the wind, I can feel it blowing in / It's coming in softly on the wings of a song," she sings, clearly positing a role for musicians in crafting utopia. Less effective, though, is the inane "Coachella – Woodstock in my Mind", which for some reason uses the titular music festival as a symbol for all that's good and in need of preservation in the world.

At 16 tracks, Lust for Life is overlong and sometimes unfocused, with inevitable dips in quality here and there. The album's poppiest moments, like "Love" and "Lust for Life", shimmer with Del Rey's newfound optimism, but even these can ring somewhat hollow compared with the smoky menace of her past work, or the incisive pathos of this record's deep cuts. On the gorgeous closer "Get Free", she maintains an ambivalent hopefulness for the future, at first despairing over the elusiveness of progress ("There's no more chasing rainbows / And hoping for an end to them / Their arches are illusions"), while still maintaining, "I want to move out of the black / Into the blue". It is in achieving this tension between holding and releasing the pain that Lust for Life feels most poignant and, indeed, most purposeful, charting a compelling and believable map for the future.

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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