Music Moment: Lana Del Rey

Music Moment: Lana Del Rey

*Disclaimer: I’m using the abbreviation of the album’s title in this blog post. Just for clarification.*


I’ve never been one to obsess over the West Coast or dream of living on the beaches of Malibu. In fact, I typically wish I was in a cozy NYC loft or strolling through Central Park.

But Lana Del Rey’s latest release has me wishing I spent all summer laying on the beach in Cali with the warm sunlight peeking through pollution. 

Or spending summer nights indulging in the luxe life at the Chateau Marmont.

Or maybe towering over the city of Los Angeles, as Lana does in her vintage film-inspired music video for Doin’ Time. Nevertheless, my cat eye sunglasses only magnify the vibes this album exudes, as I listen and daydream of a fantasy summer filled with heartbreak and lost romance. 


In 2013-2014, I was obsessed with Lana. I bought flower crowns from Forever 21 to match her Born To Die aesthetic, and I thought I was the coolest kid in school (I can assure you, I was most definitely not).

As time passed, either I “outgrew” her or her albums got progressively worse. So, I just kind of stopped listening to her. But now she’s back with another album.

And I can’t stop listening to it.

Album cover for NFR!

NFR!–Lana Del Rey’s newest release–is a dreamy, hazy mix of songs about her former summer lover(s) and her new life in L.A.

Behind the Album

NFR! is Del Rey’s sixth studio album, produced with the help of Jack Antonoff, frontman of Bleachers.

It’s no secret that Del Rey tends to include American cultural references into all her albums, and this album is no different. Instead of paying homage to the cherry pie and retro red lipstick (or being the “classic” Americana diva), she chooses to use this album as a sort of mourning of American culture.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lana explores the meaning behind her latest aesthetic. “The chaos of the [current] culture is interesting, and I’m hopeful that there’s room for there to be some movement and excitement within it.”

NPR music critic Ann Powers claimed that “On NFR! Del Rey is at her most instantly compelling, a pro asserting her future spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” 

As Time magazine points out, Del Rey’s voice is extremely unique. “She laments, stretching out the final word ominously, amid verses that enumerate the things she misses: Long Beach, New York, idleness and, somehow most chillingly, rock ‘n’ roll.”

My Thoughts? Lana is the epitome of the next internet sensation: Sad Girl Fall.

The title track opens with an instrumental swell that is soft and sweet, setting up the scene for the rest of the album. The lyrics, however, are harsh and crude against the instrumentals, giving the entire album an interesting contrast.

While I love the sound of the album, my one complaint is that most of the songs sound the same (as it goes with indie pop I suppose). Nonetheless, listening to her album was a serendipitous moment. I wasn’t expecting much, and she really outdid her previous albums. 

Fave song: Mariner’s Apartment Complex or Doin’ Time 

Least Fave: Bartender 

Overall, I give this album an 8.5/10. The last half of the album was less impressive than the first half, but Lana still manages to top all her previous work with NFR!


What did you think of the album? Leave a comment below!

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Music Moment: Ingrid Michaelson

Music Moment: Ingrid Michaelson

I’m pretty sure the last time I listened to Ingrid Michaelson was in 2011. Seriously.

I was a freshman in high school when I heard her singing in that cliché indie voice, singing about getting rich and buying a home in the South of France. (My little wannabe flower girl self totally fangirled over her songs.)

I probably wouldn’t be amiss to say we all thought she had just faded out of the music scene. But then out of the blue, she came back. Released on June 28, 2019, Stranger Songs is Michaelson’s latest attempt to be an indie artist.

Album cover of Stranger Songs, Michaelson’s latest album.

This album was quite literally based on the Netflix original TV series Stranger Things. There are 11 tracks on the album (go figure). From “Freak Show” to “Take Me Home,” each song deals with a scene or portion of the show. Billboard interviewed Michaelson and had her break down the meaning of each song.

Listening to the album, I felt extremely unimpressed. It was monotonous and honestly really cheesy. Maybe if I was still 14, I would like it. Who knows. Regardless, something about the album really rubs me the wrong way.

I’m all for using art as a means of inspiration to create new art. But this seemed a little much for me. I adore Stranger Things, but to make a song about Dustin getting bullied or Nancy breaking up with Steve? Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re making an entire album about another show/work of art, you might need some more creativity.

[Side note: I can’t be too horribly upset with this album because one of my favorite albums is the exact same concept. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. It puts Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poems to psychedelic rock music.]

Anyway. Michaelson’s album still bothers me.

Fave song: Missing You

Least fave song: All the rest of them

Overall rating: 2/10… Sorry, Ingrid.

My thing is this: in a world of great synth pop, I simply cannot find a reason to like this album. It’s really only something I think we’ll be hearing on a muffled radio in JC Penney, not featured on Season 4 of Stranger Things.

Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes with me knows how much I love music. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I have music playing as a sort-of soundtrack to my life. I write album reviews on my blog. I read peer-reviewed journal articles about the effect of country music on white suicide rates (or another good one: pop music’s affect on our memories) just for fun.

Music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of music include listening to ’90s Celine Dion and Mariah Carey with my mom, as well as singing “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel with my dad on our way to his construction job sites.

As a kid and angsty teenager, I spent many long car rides listening to my iPod nano and staring longingly out the window of my family minivan, pretending I was in some sort of nostalgic music video. When I had a bad day in middle school, I’d come home and blast “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter or “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. At one point in my life, I strongly believed “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban was a worship song. (It’s not.)

The point is, I’ve always been intrigued by the way music influences our memories and shapes our experiences. I found some interesting information from my brief researching on JSTOR. Essentially, music is like time travel. A perfectly crafted playlist can whisk you back in time to a memory you may have buried in the depths of your mind. However, it isn’t quite the same as reading your old diary entries or seeing old photos of yourself. Music attached to memories allows you to feel “a renewed sense of how it was to be that person or self at that time,” said Bas Jansen in his journal article “Tape Cassettes and Former Selves: How Mix Tapes Mediate Memories.

I then decided to ask people what songs were most dear to their heart. And what memories accompanied those songs. Here’s what they told me. (I may or may not have integrated my own memories into the mix of anonymous voices.)

“Fall for You by Secondhand Serenade. When I was in high school, I dated this guy for a long time. He texted me to look out of my window and he serenaded that song to me. It was pretty romantic.”

“Jasmine by Jai Paul. I heard it in the weeks before I started college. It made me feel like I was coming into my own, prepared for the world ahead.”

“Homecoming by Kanye West. It sounds like such a silly thing for a Kanye song to be sentimental, but when I got into high school my big brother started driving me to and from school every day. He was a senior when I was a freshman. I was bullied and struggled with self harm, and the time I spent with him in the car was my safe place.”

“ILYSB by LANY. It’s the song [my boyfriend] played when we were just friends, and it became our song when we started dating. It honestly just takes me back to when we were falling in love.”

“Touching Heaven by Johnnyswim. It was my little sister’s first dance at her wedding, and I have never felt more love and joy than in that moment.”

“Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon. It was put on a mix CD by my high school boyfriend. He had the best taste in music and made the best CDs. I felt like he really meant that song… He broke up with me a few weeks after giving me the CD because his dad made him. Honestly, I was so heartbroken over it. So now when I hear that song, I think of simpler times. When relationships hinged on how good the mix tape was. And riding down the mountain on a date, watching the sunset and listening to that song, with no care in the world.”

“Unforgettable by Nat King Cole. It was my 17th birthday, and my boyfriend and I had just gotten back to my house after dinner. We wanted some privacy, so we slow danced on my porch as the sun set. It’s a great slow dance song.”

“The Night We Met by Lord Huron started playing in a little restaurant in Glacier Park while I was there with my family right after we’d finished a 13 mile hike. Now whenever I hear the song, I wish I was back in Montana with my family, experiencing the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.”

“Are You In by Incubus. Driving along the cliffs of Highway 1 in California. Serenity.”

“My Wish by Rascal Flatts. It was the first time I had even gone to a summer camp. For a whole week, I was spending time with strangers from all over. I grew so much by being vulnerable. I had people who so genuinely cared about me and wanted me to grow. At the end of the week, this was the song that was blasted throughout the auditorium as we loaded cars and headed separate ways. Now when I hear this song, I think of endings. Although they come with sadness, it’s a period of realization.”

“Human by The Killers. It was 1 a.m., and my friends and I were driving back home from a concert. We were blasting this song in an effort to stay awake. Even though I was exhausted, it was so blissful. I can feel that same feeling every time I listen to this song.”

“Me and You by Kenny Chesney always makes me think of my dad because he sang that to me on the way to school as a child. Some of the best memories I’ve ever had.”

“If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot. My dad used to belt it out, and it reminds me of when my parents were still married. I used to think he was singing about my mom, but I guess not.”

“Coldplay got me through my high school depression. The song Yellow and the meaning behind it is fortifying to me.”

“Back Pocket by Vulfpeck. This song means a lot to me because during the summer of 2017, I would be editing late at night and the photographers would be editing with me. And we would turn on this song and just danced a ton.”


I was so overjoyed by the responses I received that I decided to create a Spotify playlist dedicated to all these special memories. Check it out! Want me to add your song to the list? Just leave a comment below explaining a song that you have a deeply connected to a cherished memory.

Music Moment: Paper Kites

Music Moment: Paper Kites

It’s after midnight, and you’re driving down the highway. The windows are down and your hair is almost (but not quite) blocking your view. The wind is warm and sticky, and you know summer is coming. You could drive for hours and let your mind wander because these are the days you’ll miss the most when they’re gone.

Can you tell I’m ready for summer? Not to mention I’ve already found the perfect album to accompany it. Today’s music moment is about On The Corner Where You Live by The Paper Kites.

On The Corner Where You Live album cover. Photo courtesy of The Paper Kites.

I found this album by accident one day, and I was shocked to find out it was by the Paper Kites. I had only ever heard their single “Bloom,” which was very very indie folk. But unbeknownst to me, they had released two entire albums in 2018. The first album is titled On The Train Ride Home and was released on April 18, 2018. Just five months later, the band released On The Corner Where You Live.

On The Train Ride Home is a good album, but On The Corner Where You Live really got me. It is infused with lo-fi and synth sounds, pays homage to the Blue Nile (where are my ’80s indie pop fans?!), and epitomizes heartbreak in the 21st century.

The album opens with “A Gathering on 57th,” an instrumental track that combines city sounds and a saxophone. It smoothly follows up with tracks that detail two lovers hopelessly striving for the perfect relationship in a postmodern society. Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy switch out lead vocals throughout the album to make it feel like a sort of dialogue.

Though it is stylistically different than their other albums, The Paper Kites made sure to keep a folk track in there with “Midtown Waitress.” They also included “Does It Ever Cross Your Mind” as a nice, introspective piano ballad. The album ends with the soothing yet emotionally charged “Don’t Keep Driving,” leaving the listener unsettled and longing for more as Bentley’s and Lacy’s voices trail off singing

Don’t push me, push me away (Don’t leave me).

Music journalist Thomas Hocknell describes it as “the sort of album you’d marry were it a person, although it would probably break your heart just to improve its context. It’s a delicate, yet muscular beauty of an album.”

The entire album just ebbs and flows in a way that is perfectly intricate. A cascade of emotions hits me every time I listen to it. The main critique I have is that it doesn’t seem to have a climactic song. However, the album flows so well that you get lost in the songs and don’t even realize when it’s over.

Favorite track: Deep Burn Blue or Does It Ever Cross Your Mind

Least favorite track: Red Light or On The Corner Where You Live

Overall, I give this album a 9/10. I simply adore the nostalgic sound mixed with the modern dilemmas. It feels so raw and real and true to life. And I love it.

Music Moment: Mumford & Sons

Music Moment: Mumford & Sons

Happysad. One word. A weird conglomeration of liberating joy and nostalgic gloom. The feeling that inspires you to travel the world but also isolates you to the cold depths of your heart. That’s the only way I know how to describe Delta, Mumford & Sons’ newest release.

After a three year hiatus, Mumford & Sons returned with Delta on Nov. 16, 2018. It’s no secret that this album is quite different than their previous ones. The folk aspect of Mumford & Sons is now embedded in heavy drums and electronic beats as though it’s begging to get on the Top 40 charts. 

While many critics said that the album was their worst one yet, I truly think it may be one of their most progressive. After switching producers, the band incorporated more indie sounds into the album to give it a modern vibe.

I love how Pitchfork’s Larry Fitzmaurice described it: “Delta is also the strongest collection of songs Mumford & Sons have released to date; the cool-handed atmospherics and dreamy melodies here simply suit them better than any other sonic guise they’ve worn.”

The album begins with “42”–a tribute to their 42nd single–and continues with a journey through the mind of Marcus Mumford. The climax of the album is revealed in the transition from “Picture You” to “Darkness Visible.” With an extremely smooth ride from bittersweet love to a contorted poetic reading from Milton’s Paradise Lost, the instruments crescendo until your heart feels as though it’s going to burst. 

While there are some amazing songs on this album, there are definitely a few weak points. Parts of the album lull, putting you off to the next song. I found myself skipping quite a few songs after listening to it a few times.

Favorite song: 42 or Forever

Least favorite song: Slip Away

Overall I give this album a 9/10. This is a super high rating, I know, but something about this album really spoke to me. Ultimately, I don’t think this album is a sell-out. Sure, the band has continued to blend into the mainstream. But it’s clear that Marcus Mumford is using this album to reflect on some very deep and troubling issues in his life, simultaneously causing me to do the same. (Thanks for the existential crisis, y’all.)

Check out Delta by Mumford & Sons on Spotify. 

Music Moment: Arctic Monkeys

Music Moment: Arctic Monkeys

A concept: a retro, Kubrick style hotel. A red silk dress glistening at the bar. Gold earrings reflecting in the dim light. Arctic Monkeys’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino playing softly in the background.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I think this album is pretty dreamy. Released on May 11, the Arctic Monkeys ended their five year hiatus with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Compared to their other records, this one takes a whole new face. The groovy guitar riffs transport me to space. Turner’s melodic, humming voice accompanies me as I gaze at the stars around me.

This album has been received with very mixed reviews, and I’m just going to add my thoughts into the mix with my very own Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino review.

I’ll admit I was hesitant upon first listen. This album hardly sounds like their previous grungy rock albums, such as AM or Favourite Worst Nightmare. But after listening to it three times through (my rule of thumb), I fell in love with it.

Pitchfork says the album is “a song suite documenting a futuristic moon colony and the exodus that spawned it, told by an assortment of unreliable narrators who can sometimes barely string a sentence together.” Rolling Stone describes the new album as “a lounge-pop concept record set in a casino piano bar on the moon.” What does all that even mean? It seems just as existential as it sounds. While some critics view those descriptions as a pretentious or lazy excuse for a crappy album, I think it’s more than that. Turner knew what he was doing with this album. It has a pretty political undertone and lyrics that can’t be ignored.

Star Treatment kicks off the album with a commentary on celebrity culture and its influence in the world. The album quickly flows through a series of songs highlighting dystopian future, monster trucks, taquerias, and even Donald Trump. Four Stars Out of Five calls the taqueria the Information-Action Ratio, pointing out the juxtaposition of having the world at our fingertips and not knowing what to do with it all.

The album itself is a giant paradox. It’s full of subtle and witty politicized lyrics soaked in a nostalgia that reeks of the 1970s. It’s grungy and gross while also extremely sleek and modern.

Favorite Song: Batphone

Least Favorite Song: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (ironically enough)

 

Overall, I give this album a 8/10. This album is a shimmering work of art, and it really can’t be compared with their other albums. While stylistically it’s certainly not my favorite album of theirs, I really appreciate what they did with it. Despite all the negativity, I think it’s an interesting commentary on modern society (and what better way to do it than with some space lounge music?).

P.S. 8/10 is actually 4/5… See what I did there?

Music Moment: Superbody

Music Moment: Superbody

A mullet comparable to that of John Stamos. A crew neck paired over a collared shirt. A single cross earring dangling from his left ear. This is Robert McCurry, frontman of Superbody. He walks through the door of our local coffee shop, looking like he stepped right out of a DeLorean before walking in.

Funky synth beats and electronic voices blare into my headphones as I sip coffee, waiting for him to walk in. I’ve been listening to his album on repeat for the past 24 hours. Expecting to see the 23-year old clad in typical college kid attire, I blink multiple times in disbelief as he walks through the door.

Small Town, Big Dreams

Superbody is the creation of Robert McCurry and Caleb Dills, two kids who made their music debut in the rolling hills of Chattanooga, Tenn. As an eclectic mix of Tears for Fears meets Joy Division, Superbody epitomizes the revival of the ‘80s maximalist. McCurry describes his upbringing as typical, suburban, and middle-class. “But I started, of course, playing in different punk and rock bands when I was in middle school, like everybody else.” Bass guitar is his instrument of choice, noting that a lot of his favorite music “actually has bass lines on it as opposed to synth bass lines.”

The duo released their first album, Hades Land, in 2015 and featured a lo-fi vibe. “We didn’t even know what we were at that point. We had no idea how to mix, so we ran a bunch of stuff through tape machines. We were scared of people calling us out for doing everything with software because we didn’t know how to work the software that well.” This explains much of the experimental sound incorporated into their first album.

“I’m not scared of that anymore,” says McCurry, “like, that’s so pretentious that I would think that anyone would do that. But at the time, we were so scared of people calling us out because we never produced something.”

The days of hesitant music production were long gone after Hades Land was released. Technology and software quickly became integrated into their newest album, Youth Music. Once this album dropped, a few national magazines, such as the Office Magazine and The 405, picked up on Superbody. They went on tour up the East Coast and into Canada.

From the looks of McCurry, you would never guess he was a pop artist in the 21st century. In fact, you might assume the exact opposite; he resembles someone from an 80s movie. When it comes to his appearance, McCurry shares a funny story about how the mullet came to be. “We started recording, and I started singing with that weird, deep voice, and I was like, ‘No one’s gonna even believe that this is me.’ I looked more freaky with the fact that I just looked normal. So for the first record, I grew the mustache and bleached my hair. We started writing the second record, and I was like, ‘I have to grow a mullet for this.’”

McCurry’s whole persona is an antithesis of the DIY punk artist. The entire “I-look-lazier-than-you” personage is the exact opposite of what he wants to portray. “I just wanted to be expressive in whatever way I can because the music is extremely expressive and bright.”

From Indie to Pop

After being in countless punk and indie bands, McCurry has developed a very distinct pop music philosophy. “Caleb and I just set out with this: we wanted to make the most creative, accessible pop music that we can stand by. That anyone can listen to and anyone can have an opinion on as well.” After seeing how indie music can play it a bit too safe, McCurry ran to the opposite extreme with his music.

His drive for distinctiveness led him to create Youth Music. The opening track, Real Luv, is a conglomeration of techno vibes and robotic ‘80s voices. The entire album flows in this manner: extremely pop dance and extremely ‘80s. “It was very intentional for the rhetoric and everything to be, like, oh-so-80s because that’s what we were obsessed with. Maximalist early ‘80s music. Everything about that. That’s the explosion of creativity to me.”  

Though Dills recently left the band to pursue other endeavors, McCurry is still prepared to take on the pop scene with fresh ideas and content. McCurry labels himself a poptimist– someone who spread positivity through pop music. “As soon as I started trying to actually write pop songs, I was like, ‘This is the highest form of art. Period.’”

With the release of Youth Music, the return of ‘80s pop has never been more apparent. McCurry drew much of his inspiration from the ‘80s hit band Wham! “They just found a way to affect youth culture with pure positivity,” McCurry says. “The fact that there were high school kids walking around with ‘Choose Life’ shirts and ultimate positivity in their lives when most of the youths, especially boys, seek out darker things almost always.”

Modern Love: Synth Pop in a Digital Age

The fact that ‘80s pop is making a comeback is actually very significant. Music production has completely changed in the past 30 to 40 years. From analog to digital, some artists are still adapting to the process. Many prominent “indie” artists– BØRNS, Bleachers, LANY, and The 1975, to name a few– are re-inventing this ‘80s sound in the modern music world. “We [Robert and Caleb] were so obsessed specifically with one hit wonders. All of that early ‘80s pop and dance music still stands up today, and they didn’t have computers. They were doing all of that shit on a tape reel. They didn’t have any of the software that we have right now.”

Another aspect that makes ‘80s music stand the test of time was the pure quality with which it was produced. With the rise of MTV, it was almost impossible to get on the charts without a music video. Ironically enough, even with the rise of social media, music videos are on the decline. Many #1 singles on the radio don’t even have a video to accompany them. “[With] things like Instagram stories and Snapchat, I try to stay away from it as much as possible. Actually, with the small fan-base I do have, surprise people. I like that.”

McCurry admits that the shift in music is continuously changing. “In this day and age, people can arrange and compose without barely even knowing how to play music. When you’re sending stuff off or recording, you just leave someone to work on it for weeks and then you get it back. There’s no excuse for that anymore. You need very minimal money, minimal experience to produce music on your own. Now you can make anything sound like anything with just the software.” McCurry is somewhat of a paradox: he loves the vintage sound and the modern technology.

 

For a hint of Superbody’s style, check out their hit single Patricia or their Instagam. Featured image by Juniper Jeffries.