#8. As easy as it is to recognize the old spirit that Lana Del Rey has always been, it’s just as easy to see how eager the (in?)famous artist is to still explore new(er) territories with her music. And so, rather than becoming indolent or oversatisfied with Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s immensely beloved reception from both fans and critics alike, 2021 saw her defiantly push herself (and her listeners) out of any comfort zone. Chemtrails over the Country Club (the first of two records she released in 2021, along with Blue Banisters) sees Lana in autofictional, wanderlust mode, leaving behind her typically Californian soundscape — “I’m ready to leave LA / And I want you to come / Eighty miles North or South will do” — in order to commence a sonic journey (or more accurately, road trip) through suburban Americana. And indeed, one quality is always certain in Lana’s work: the weaving of hopeful musings and personal introspections into contemporary compositions, fusing the dreams of yesteryear with a hip, distinctly modern awakening.
From Orlando in “White Dress” to Arkansas and Oklahoma in “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” from the Nebraska of “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” to “Dance Till We Die” in Louisiana, Lana paints a (semi-)national panoramic canvas cut through with a strong sense of nostalgia and deliverance — less Beat movement than the kinetic, rebellious runaway character of Bonnie and Clyde mythos; no longer fixed in Long Beach or Venice Beach, but instead drifting toward open ranches and meadows — to narrate themes of childhood and womanhood in a masterful storytelling fashion. In fact, Chemtrails can frequently feel as if Lana is treating each song — and their particular poetry — as a work of captured polaroid photography, a snapshot of place and time. It might not be accidental, then, that her compositions and lyrical imagery, perhaps more than ever, are here energized through the constant effects of sunbeams and summer lights, preserving a very hazy quality — also notable in the way she experiments with her most delicate vocal reaches, embracing previously lesser-heard timbers and pitches, on exceptional display in “Dark But Just a Game.”
Full of delightful details, it’s plenty enough to just listen carefully to how literally colorful Lana’s poetic palette on Chemtrails is — “When I was a waitress wearing a white dress”; “We could get lost in the purple rain… / We could get high on some pink champagne”; “I remember watching, How Green Was My Valley” — while also seizing on the pleasure of listening to her mark time’s transience — “Winter to Spring / Spring back to Fall / Isn’t it cool how nothing here changes at all?” White-hot and wild, as the record moves forward from more piano-centric pieces to largely guitar-driven tracks, Chemtrails takes final shape as a kind of downtempo, trippy dance. The soft, moody percussion and the ambient trip-hop texture drive the project’s atmosphere and help enunciate the presence of guest artists like Nikki Lane, Zella Day and Weyes Blood, imbuing the record with yet another layer of vitality. And while Lana’s seventh studio album finds her committing to following in the footsteps of obvious idols like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez — “I’m coverin’ Joni and dancin’ with Joan” — it’s perhaps more effective to regard Chemtrails over the Country Club for Lana as what Song of the Open Road represents for her artistic father figure, Walt Whitman: a work that, above all, is very “afoot and light-hearted.”