Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lana Del Rey's Dark Paradise

Ready to die.

If you read Pitchfork or consider yourself a hipster (or an anti-hipster), you've probably got strong feelings towards Lana Del Rey. That's the narrative I've been seeing online throughout the past year in regards to Lana Del Rey's merits as an artist. Either you love her or hate her; and if you hate her, you probably hate her lips and nose just as much as her voice. Hater. I held a relatively apathetic stance up until her SNL performance which was, admittedly, sub-par by most peoples' assessment. Additionally, I'm also prone to dismissing artists who place such a strong emphasis on camera consciousness and attention to overtly glamorous aesthetics. But then I listened to her (leaked) album. Things done changed.

If I was blind or had never witnessed Del Rey's imagery before, I would've benefited greatly through my listening experience of Born to Die. I'd still be asking myself how authentic her persona is. (Is Lana Del Rey a Nicki Minaj/Roman Zolanski-ish alter ego?) Nonetheless, this album, despite being a bit uneven, is quite phenomenal. Handled predominantly by hip hop beatsmith Emile, the Interscope-covered production is top-notch, verging on cinematic masterpiece-caliber. Lana Del Rey is supplied with a lush array of aural palettes ranging from torch to chamber to Danger Mouse-esque hip hop. The overall atmosphere is loose and decadent, affording Del Rey the ability to shuffle between jovial debauchery and nihilism to brood melancholy self-awareness.

The balancing act only works close to perfectly for me, but that's fine. Like most albums, Born to Die has some songs I care for and some that I don't. But this is easily remedied by my (sacrilegious?) habit of shaving full albums down to EP-length products of creative efficiency (by my standards, of course). Highlights from the record include "Born to Die" and "Video Games", both of which prefaced the album with 7" single releases and music videos. Additional favorites include "Diet Mountain Dew", "Dark Paradise", "Carmen", "Summertime Madness", "Without You" and "Lolita". After it's all said and done, nearly all of the tracks on the album make it onto my bootleg EP - much longer than the conventional Extended Play. The remaining songs are still quite good. But the standout song from Born to Die, however, has got to be "Million Dollar Man". Twenty-five seconds into this majestic torch track and I could swear I'm listening to the raspy crooning of Fiona Apple. (A handy Google search of "Million Dollar Man", "Lana Del Rey" and "Fiona Apple" lets me know I'm not alone.) In a word? Divine.

Even if I wanted to hate Lana Del Rey, I can't hate Born to Die. And with that, my initially-tepid response to all the hype has vanished as evidenced by a strong showing with this debut album. "How do you like me now?"

LISTEN: Lana Del Rey - "Million Dollar Man"
LISTEN: Lana Del Rey - "Dark Paradise"
LISTEN: Lana Del Rey - "Carmen"

PURCHASE: Born to Die | Vinyl