Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss Lana Del Rey’s seventh LP ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’, a record filled with wanderlust, nostalgia and a longing for freedom.
Featured here are Atwood writers Emily Algar, Madison Zoey Vettorino, Dimitra Gurduiala, Josh Weiner, and Nina Schaarschmidt.
How do you feel Chemtrails Over the Country Club reflects or captures life over the past year?
Emily: I am not sure it feels like a direct reflection of the pandemic but it does feel like a retreat into memories of being with people, of having new experiences, which of course, none of us have been really able to do in the last year. It also is very heavy on musing how it felt to be young and carefree, or seemingly carefree, and also what it feels like to be without the heaviness of what has been going on in both the UK and the USA in the last four years. So maybe the absence of the pandemic or the political turbulence is itself a reflection of life over the past year?
Nina: Personally, I do not see a direct metaphorical reflection of what is currently going on in the world, which I really enjoy. To me, Lana’s music has always been a sort of escapism, when you turn one of her albums on, you are soaked into her world, full of poetry and metaphors. With all the heaviness in the news, it is nice to have a record that transports you into a sphere where you can dream for a while. That being said, in the song “Tulsa Jesus Freak”, there is a line that says “down in Arkansas, the stores are all closed”, which could possibly relate to the past year, but taking the poeticness of her songwriting into regard, I doubt that it is connected to the pandemic.
Josh: Having skimmed a few critics’ reviews, the consensus seems to be that there’s a strong feeling of escapism on this album. One of the songs in which that comes across most distinctly is “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” which opens with a suggestion that we travel eighty miles away from Los Angeles in any direction, just for the heck of it. Then there’s “Wild At Heart,” a song about being true to the description in its title; and “Yosemite,” which evokes the immense feelings of liberation that one tends to experience when visiting wide-open spaces such as a massive national park.
I agree with Emily and Nina in that this isn’t necessarily a theme that is unique to the Time of COVID, but given how much wanderlust has been building up inside of us during these past months of confinement, I feel like those topics are even more emotionally evocative these days than they might have been otherwise.
Dimitra: The only thing I think I can relate to this period in history is, as my colleagues have already said, this desire to escape from reality and take shelter in a comforting world, without thinking about how heavy the situation we are living in is.
Madison: I think all of my fellow writers are exactly on target when they say that this album offers a healthy dose of escapism. I’d argue that all of Del Rey’s music has this undertone, but usually, I think it’s more based upon the idea of escaping from the 21st century specifically and into an earlier period in history. This album is a bit more somber than her 2019 album NFR! which felt more glittery, somehow. For that reason, it does feel like it reflects this period in time.
How does Chemtrails over the Country Club sit in Del Rey’s discography?
Emily: The album feels like a continuation of NFR! soundwise but also Honeymoon in terms of story and imagery. Lust for Life felt like a blip in her discography, whereas Chemtrails… is a perfect balance of introspection and those filmic qualities that Del Rey has made her signature from the Born To Die era.
Nina: I think that it is the best record she has ever done. It feels like a natural continuation of the Norman- era. To me, the record feels very authentic.
Josh: I don’t know her discography top-to-bottom, but I can say this record definitely holds up when placed against the albums of her that I have listened to in the past, including Ultraviolence and NFR!
Dimitra: I see the record as a child of Honeymoon, perhaps with an influence from NFR! as Emily mentioned – nevertheless, I think Chemtrails is more harmonious and authentic than both of them.
Madison: I actually felt like this album differed from NFR! quite a bit. As a disclaimer, I do think NFR! was one of my favorite albums of 2019 – so it was a tough act to follow. This album definitely felt more stripped than NFR! did to me, which is partially why it feels so authentic.
Did you have any expectations after Norman Fucking Rockwell! and have they been met or not?
Emily: This is going to be a long answer! It took me a while to fully appreciate NFR! but it is now one of my favourite Del Rey albums, so I didn’t have any expectations surrounding that album; my only hope was that it moved away from Lust For Life. I like my Lana music, sad and melancholy!
Chemtrails Over the Country Club was the same, I didn’t really have any expectations. I wasn’t blown away by the first couple of singles, but the album as a whole feels like a continuation of NFR! both in terms of her fixation with the dark side of the American dream, but also the longing for a life beyond fame. On NFR!’s “How to Disappear” she sings looking forward, “Now it’s been years since I left New York/ And I’ve got a kid and two cats in the yard” and she follows that with “White Dress”, but this time, looking back, “It made me feel, made me feel like a god/ It kinda makes me feel, like maybe I was better off”. Chemtrails… is definitely not what I expected it to be. It has a cinematic richness that reminds me of Honeymoon and Ultraviolence but the poeticness of NFR!
Nina: I did not have any expectations in particular, I was just excited for what she would put out. After the first few singles dropped, I was really curious what stories this record may tell. When I listened to it fully for the first time, I was truly blown away- in my opinion she completely topped NFR!.
Josh: NFR! demonstrated to me that Lana Del Rey is a really strong vocalist who also knows how to include a dose of attitude in her lyrics. I approached this album expecting her to maintain that standard, and it turns out that was totally the case.
Dimitra: NFR! is literally the only album that ever convinced me to listen to tracks longer than five minutes – and “Venice Bitch” is still one of my favourite tracks in Lana’s entire discography. I think that sums up my love for this album quite well. I don’t think I had high expectations for Chemtrails, maybe because of its name I expected it to be more country. In that case I don’t know how much I would have liked it, but I’m still happy with what came out.
Madison: How do I say this nicely? I’ll add this as a disclaimer: I’ve listened to Del Rey’s music for years, and I tend to like her older stuff better (which is partially why I enjoyed NFR! so much; it felt like a return to her older style). That being said, I didn’t find this album as captivating as I hoped it would be. I do enjoy the songs individually, but I don’t imagine I’ll go back to it the way I do with NFR!, Born to Die, or Paradise.
Do you have any favorite songs or lyrics off the new album?
Emily: Ooof, this is hard, but “White Dress” is one the best album openers I have heard for a while. It is both so full of possibility and nostalgia at the same. I would also have to agree with Josh and choose, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”, because it speaks of the hope we all have, I think, of finding someone who gets you – “You talk to God like I do, I think you know/ The same secrets that I do”.
Nina: That is a hard question. “White Dress” is a work of art per se, and the lyrics are poetry in its purest form. I also really love “Wild at heart”, “Yosemite” and the Joni Mitchell Cover “For Free” that she performed with Weyes Blood and Zella Day.
Josh: As a Lord of the Rings fan who just reread the books and rewatched the movie trilogy twice in the past few months, I admire Lana’s efforts in taking the famous Tolkien line, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” and constructing a full-length song dedicated to that theme. I also really like “Yosemite,” because it succeeds in making the sweeping grandeur of the title location come alive in your mind.
Dimitra: The title track, without a doubt. It’s dreamy, melancholic, makes me want to hug someone and slow dance with them by candlelight – just the kind of song that drives me crazy from the first listen, you know. Lyrics wise, I’ll say “But God, it feels good not to be alone” from “Dance Till We Die”. Exactly what I hope to be able to say as soon as the pandemic is over.
Madison: My favorite track is easily ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak.’ No surprise, it was created by Del Rey and Jack Antonoff. I think you can definitely feel his influence on this track. The chorus is catchy, and sonically, it’s really relaxed. ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ is also a standout to me; I really enjoyed how she explored her upper vocal register here.
Lana Del Rey’s albums tend to be very cinematic, textured and steeped in nostalgia, and what is considered the “golden age” of America. What feelings or time does the album evoke for you?
Emily: All of Del Rey’s records, except maybe Lust For Life, evoke a nostalgia for an America that may or may not have existed. I think Born to Die and Honeymoon do this the best. Whereas Chemtrails Over the Country Club evokes Del Rey’s nostalgia for her own life. ‘White Dress’ is full of longing for this freedom of when you’re younger and things were seemingly so much easier and lighter. I am near to Del Rey’s age, and though our lives and experiences are worlds apart, this song really hit home the first time I heard it, and made me long to be in my early 20s again, when things made sense, when there wasn’t this heaviness to life. There is a lot to be said for the universality of specificity.
Josh: I don’t know if the album was meant to evoke any time period in particular– other than maybe the 1970’s, since it features a cover of a song Joni Mitchell released during those years. But I know that Lana Del Rey is known for incorporating a lot of elements of Americana into her music, like Emily said, and I can tell that she’s done the same thing in this album with its references to many American cities, rock bands, and cultural staples.
Madison: Del Rey’s music is unique because every time she releases something, she harnesses the nostalgia that accompanies ‘Americana’ or the 1950s but also creates something new. There were tons of references to cities in the US, as Josh noted. I think that those references make this album allow this album and its tracks to feel very specifically American. The track that evokes the 1950s the most, for me, is “Chemtrails Over The Country Club.” I feel that song is one of the strongest on the album for this association, and also how specific the lyrics are.
What are your thoughts on the collaborations featured on this album?
Emily: I hadn’t considered the collaborations until this question. I think because the album feels so much about connection, whether it be relationships or friendships or musicianship, that the collaborations with Nikki Lane on “Breaking Up Slowly” or Zella Day and Weyes Blood on Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” is just so natural, like friends hanging out and sharing verses just you would share a beer. I like to joke that Lust For Life is really “Lana Del Rey & Friends” because it felt so false, a bit like those duet albums from the ‘50s or ‘60s, where as Chemtrails Over the Country Club is more like photographs in an album of all Del Rey’s experiences with friends, with lovers, with musicians. I also agree with Nina, she has incorporated her friends into the creation of this record in a really authentic way. Not just in the collaborations but also the album artwork and just the vibe of friendship and connection that this album creates.
Nina: When I first heard, “For Free”, the Joni Mitchell song she recorded with two of her friends, Zella Day and Weyes Blood, I was so impressed. Like Emily wrote, listening to it feels so natural, as if you are in a room with them. I love how their voices just harmonize perfectly. I love how she has incorporated her friends on the creation of this record, it really adds a special layer to the artwork overall.
Josh: A more specific version of this question is, “What are your thoughts on the songs ‘Breaking Up Slowly’ and ‘For Free,’ the two vocal collaborations on this album?” Emily and Nina are correct in identifying that these are two tracks in which the guest artists are seamlessly incorporated, and that having Lana collaborate with singers that she is also friends with in real life allows for some really effective chemistry.
Dimitra: Honestly, I’ve never been crazy about Lana’s collaborations – maybe only Stevie Nicks in “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the collaboration with Nikki Lane in “Breaking Up Slowly”, also because you can hear Lana’s musical maturation. “For Free” impressed me less, but maybe that will change after another couple of listens.
Each Lana Del Rey record has a specific concept. If you think about Chemtrails over the Country Club, what vibe comes to mind?
Nina: I think it may be about letting go and being nostalgic about the past at the same time. Lana is getting older, and the themes of her songs have changed. Moreover, I think she is just becoming more authentic with every album, creating art no matter what others say.
Josh: I’ll stick with what I said in response to the first question, in that strong feelings of escapism permeate this entire record. Thus, “liberation” is what I would cite as the central theme of this record, both within its lyrics and its high-octane orchestration.
Emily: Reading everyone’s answers, I have to agree with you all. Chemtrails… feels simultaneously about letting go, wanting to stay the same, and a longing and nostalgia for a simpler and easier time. I know we all overuse the phrase, “back in my day things were easier…” but I do honestly believe certain things were easier when I was a teenager and in my 20s. I grew up without social media, so I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like coming of age with your every experience being documented and critiqued by friends and strangers. Chemtrails… feels like a beautiful and an indulgent return to that time.
Dimitra: It’s going to sound oddly specific and very strange coming from someone in her early twenties, but the record just makes me think of that precise moment when you come home dead tired after work and look at the pictures from when you were younger, going through your whole history.
Madison: This album feels like flipping through a photo album with the vague awareness you can’t return to the time photographs. I agree with Emily, there’s definitely a strong undercurrent of coming-of-age energy here. I think that’s really what does allow this album to stand out in its own right.
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📸 © 2021
Chemtrails over the Country Club
an album by Lana Del Rey