Third Quarter Review 2019

1. Lana Del Rey — Norman Fucking Rockwell

To me, Norman Fucking Rockwell is the most artistically focused, sonically cohesive, and crushingly beautiful album ever released by Lana Del Rey. The most influential 50’s-pop-star of the 2010’s has newly refocused her songwriting on the gorgeous, melancholy melodies that introduced her to the world back in 2011. For an hour and eight minutes, NFR flows with surprising confidence between the tight intimacy of solo performances on guitar or piano and the huge push and pull of swelling string and synth arrangements. It is no secret that much of Lana’s discography to date pulls from a relatively small sound palette, but Lana expands her musical reach in surprising directions at certain moments on NFR, including the 7-minute-long meandering psychedelic guitar journey that ends “Venice Bitch,” and the building, resolving piano chords that bring me to tears every time on the final track, “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it” especially as she sings one of my favorite lines on the album, “I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown, 24/7 Sylvia Plath.” (NFR is full of briefly smirkable but ultimately heartbreaking lines like this; another of my favorites is the opening line of the album, “Goddamn, man-child, you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you.’”)

Elizabeth Grant’s project as Lana Del Rey has always been about building a strong persona, and part of what makes NFR special is that is marks a new clarity in that arena. In the past there has often been a disconnect between Lana’s two major personas, which I call Nostalgic Lana and Socially Critical Lana. In her first few albums, as Nostalgic Lana, she showcases her ability to harness classic American imagery to talk about modern (but timeless!) relationship dynamics, most famously of all on “Video Games”. Then, on the last few albums, she gradually morphs into Socially Critical Lana and makes it clear that she has mixed feelings about all the things she was talking about previously — the cultural norms surrounding relationships and gender roles — but crucially, also about America in general. NFR presents the perfect fusing of these two personae: we get to keep Socially Critical Lana but with all the imagery and masterful subtlety of presentation from Nostalgia Lana. We regain all the benefits of being shown, not told. This has always been one of Lana Del Rey’s central charms — that she shows us rather than tells us that she is smarter than all these fuckers she is head-over-heels in love with; and that beneath the Hollywood makeup and American flag bathing suit, she is complex, critical, and in control. Now, finally, victoriously, on NFR, we get to see her use this power to dive headfirst into the paradoxes of American emotion and culture and fetch us a sliver of dangerous hope.

2. Bon Iver — i,i

3. BROCKHAMPTON — GINGER

4. Clairo — Immunity

5. Young Thug — So Much Fun

6. Black Belt Eagle Scout — At The Party With My Brown Friends

7. Shredders — Great Hits

8. Jay Som — Anak Ko

9. (Sandy) Alex G — House of Sugar

10. Oso Oso — Basking In The Glow

11. New Pornographers — In The Morse Code of Brake Lights

12. DaBaby — KIRK

13. Tegan & Sara — Hey, I’m Just Like You

14. Burna Boy — African Giant

15. Shura — forevher

16. KAINA — Next to the Sun

17. Beyoncé — The Lion King: The Gift

18. Mallrat — Driving Music

19. Molly Sarlé — Karaoke Angel

20. Florist — Emily Alone

21. Whitney — Forever Turned Around

22. Rapsody — EVE

23. Tove Lo — Sunshine Kitty

24. Shigeto — Versions

25. Taylor Swift — Lover

Honorable Mention

Bat for Lashes — Lost Girls

Octo Octa — Resonant Body

tobi lou — tobi lou Live on Ice

Y La Bamba — Entre Los Dos EP

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Karl Snyder

Karl Snyder

Music moves us through our lives in productive and spiritually significant ways. I write about that. More writing on The Wild Honey Pie, FRONTRUNNER, & Patreon.