My rule for reviews has typically been not to review anything released less than ten years ago. My reasoning is simple: I believe that generally it takes a certain amount of time for a work of high or commercial art to find its place. A fuller understanding of it can better be achieved at a distance and time can reveal qualities and deficiencies that an instant reaction can otherwise miss.
I stand by this. And yet, I am now writing about an album that came out this year. My justification for this is to do with the nature of change and development and my personal experiences of the last few months.
Timing can be so important. Sometimes we react to art instantly. The truth of it and of ourselves is unmistakable and there is value in that which I had, if not forgotten, then at least undervalued because this truth can help us. As much as time and the circumstances of a life lived may dim the intensity of this initial connection, we tend to harbour generous feelings towards these pieces of art because of what they revealed to us about ourselves in specific moments.
In the last few months, I have struggled. My anxiety has spiked and there have been times when I’ve had difficulty understanding exactly who I am. A bout of writers’ block, which I had never really experienced before, combined with rejection by publishers and unsuccessful job applications took their toll on me. While these were more symptoms than a cause of the issue, they were still hard to get past. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the nature of this website, I immersed myself in books, music, films, and TV. Many were comfort blankets signaling my retreat by returning to the familiar, but they certainly helped me.
However, ‘Chemtrails over the Country Club’ was not a retreat and for a long time I struggled to work out exactly why I was so compelled to keep coming back to it. The obvious answer is the music and the melodies, and they certainly hit the right spot for me. Elements of country and folk have been absorbed into the mix of sounds that make up a ‘Lana del Rey record’, along with elements that remind me most of the eponymous Velvet Underground album. In short, this is a record of elaborate delicacy and loveliness with melodies as memorable as they are unpredictable.
Of course, that is just the surface, the way inside rather than what has kept me returning. That came from digging a little deeper and discovering a storytelling record with ideas and themes that I needed to hear in 2021 in a way that I wouldn’t have fully appreciated at any other time in my life.
The urge to return to simpler times is documented gorgeously on ‘White Dress’ and is followed by a series of compelling character portraits leading to a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’ which provide an arc making it clear that going back is neither practical nor enough. By the time ‘For Free’ begins, the music, attitude and feeling of the record has changed while remaining the same at heart, offering peace and a way forward because these songs are about searching, whether for love or for fame; experiencing the joy and limitations of them and ultimately about remembering who we are no matter how many miles or years go by and how many different lives we have led.
That is what I have kept returning to. The truth that sometimes there is a need to retreat, not to hide so much as to remember who we are at the core of our being. To remember the best parts of ourselves that are sometimes the hardest to recognise or at least acknowledge. To remember that we are the person from before and still something new with the potential to be even more. Evolution is within each of us in how we interact with the world. That is hard to see in our worst times but if we can make it through to the other side there is strength to be gained from embracing change and absorbing it in the ways only we can.